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Reproducing Women

Reproducing Women: Medicine, Metaphor, and Childbirth in Late Imperial China

Yi-Li Wu
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: 1
Pages: 378
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  • Book Info
    Reproducing Women
    Book Description:

    This innovative book uses the lens of cultural history to examine the development of medicine in Qing dynasty China. Focusing on the specialty of "medicine for women"(fuke), Yi-Li Wu explores the material and ideological issues associated with childbearing in the late imperial period. She draws on a rich array of medical writings that circulated in seventeenth- to nineteenth-century China to analyze the points of convergence and contention that shaped people's views of women's reproductive diseases. These points of contention touched on fundamental issues: How different were women's bodies from men's? What drugs were best for promoting conception and preventing miscarriage? Was childbirth inherently dangerous? And who was best qualified to judge? Wu shows that late imperial medicine approached these questions with a new, positive perspective.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94761-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    To die in childbirth is tragedy enough without also dying from an apparent medical error. But so it was in the winter of 1713, when Ms. Shen began to suffer fits of raving and hallucinations shortly after delivering her child.¹ Her husband, Yan Chunxi, was a hardworking scholar, trying to make his way through the tiered examinations for government posts that spelled success for Chinese men. Some years later, he would so impress educational officials from his native place of Xuanhua Prefecture, Zhili Province, that they would sponsor his direct entrance into the National University and thence to an official...

  6. CHAPTER 1 Late Imperial Fuke and the Literate Medical Tradition
    (pp. 15-53)

    Shi Jiefan’s wife unexpectedly became pregnant for the first time in her thirties, and to compound the surprise, she gave birth to twins.¹ The family was surely relieved to see how hale she was following delivery. Over the next several days, however, she developed an intensifying fever with abdominal distension, and her family called on the doctor Wei Zhixiu (1722–72). Originally of humble social origins and orphaned as a child, Wei ultimately rose through his own diligence to become a successful healer and accomplished poet, sufficiently talented to attract the support of eminent literati from his home county of...

  7. CHAPTER 2 Amateur as Arbiter: Popular Fuke Manuals in the Qing
    (pp. 54-83)

    Wu Yu’s sister-in-law suffered miscarriage after miscarriage, until finally his brother went to consult the monks of the Bamboo Grove Monastery. Located in Xiaoshan, across the Qiantang River from Wu Yu’s home prefecture of Hangzhou in Zhejiang Province, the Bamboo Grove monks were known throughout the region for their success in curing women’s diseases. They sent Wu’s brother home with wrapped packages of medicine. After taking several doses, Wu Yu’s sister-in-law successfully carried her next pregnancy to term, ultimately giving birth to a son. In the years following his nephew’s birth, Wu Yu recalled, his interest was further piqued as...

  8. CHAPTER 3 Function and Structure in the Female Body
    (pp. 84-119)

    By the time she was twenty-two years old, Ms. Cheng had given birth to five children. For the next eight years after that, however, she stopped menstruating entirely and was unable to conceive.¹ To restore her fertility, her family hired a succession offukeexperts who administered “thousands of doses of medicines” in a fruitless attempt to cure what they believed to be a case of stagnated Blood. Finally, Ms. Cheng was examined by one of her husband’s senior kinsmen, the eminent doctor Sun Yikui (fl. late sixteenth century).² Sun declared that the previous doctors had all misdiagnosed Ms. Cheng’s...

  9. CHAPTER 4 An Uncertain Harvest: Pregnancy and Miscarriage
    (pp. 120-146)

    Ms. Huang had suffered five miscarriages in a row, each time in the third month of pregnancy.¹ Now pregnant for the sixth time, she started to bleed and another miscarriage seemed imminent. Unlike during her previous pregnancies, however, she had to face the situation without her husband’s support. ChenNianzu (1753–1823) was the grandson of a doctor and an aspiring scholar, studying medicine while striving for examination success. He would receive thejurendegree in 1792 and later win praise for his meritorious service as magistrate of Wei County in Zhili Province, where he personally formulated and distributed medicine to...

  10. CHAPTER 5 “Born Like a Lamb”: The Discourse of Cosmologically Resonant Childbirth
    (pp. 147-187)

    Zhang Baohua’s wife had been in labor for three days, and still the baby would not come out.¹ Anyone who knew her medical history would have been filled with despair. In each of her previous pregnancies, Mrs. Zhang had gone into labor in the eighth month of pregnancy, suffering for several excruciating days until she finally delivered a baby who died within the week. Now again, she had gone into labor in her eighth month. She must have been attended by a highly regarded midwife, for she had married into a prominent family: her father-in-law was ajinshidegree holder...

  11. CHAPTER 6 To Generate and Transform: Strategies for Postpartum Health
    (pp. 188-223)

    Three decades after the death of his wife, Ms. Wei, magistrate Xu Lian still lamented her untimely demise.¹ Soon after giving birth in 1813, Ms. Wei had fallen ill and was diagnosed as suffering from an internal stagnation of Blood. We have no description of her precise symptoms, but diagnoses of Blood stagnation were common in cases of postpartum abdominal pain, especially when accompanied by distension or hardness in the lower abdomen and apparent obstructions in the flow of postpartum discharges.² The doctor was emphatic: breaking up the accumulated Blood was the only way to cure her. He prescribed zedoary...

  12. Epilogue: Body, Gender, and Medical Legitimacy
    (pp. 224-236)

    On the first day of the third month of 1919, Mrs. Meng died in childbirth. She had gone into labor at dawn, and by afternoon the attending midwife declared that the birth was hopelessly obstructed. The family then summoned a doctor of Western medicine, who tried to deliver the child, but to no avail. By evening, both mother and baby were dead.¹

    The incident made a deep impression on Qiu Qingyuan (1873–1947), a friend of the Meng family. A native of Shaoxing, Qiu was a doctor and publisher and a leader in efforts to preserve and modernize Chinese medical...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 237-310)
  14. Glossary
    (pp. 311-318)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 319-342)
  16. Index
    (pp. 343-362)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 363-363)