A new book has just been released by Cambridge University Press entitled Women’s Writing of Ancient Mesopotamia An Anthology of the Earliest Female Authors!
It is an anthology of translations from the ancient Near East of various writings by women. The translations include letters, religious hymns, inscriptions, prophecies, and various other types of texts. All of them considered some of the earliest examples of writing done by women in history. The only downside is that the book is quite expensive right, but hopefully that will change in the future and/or a paperback edition will soon follow.
[More 100 Days of Arts and Sciences, featuring “Manuscripts as sources in the history of Chinese Medicine,” by Unschuld and Zheng, in Medieval Chinese Medicine.]
Two medical manuscripts dating from the Han Dynasty were found in Zhangjiashan grave number 247, in Jiangling, Hubei province, i, n 1983. These are the Maishu (脈書, Book of the Mai [vessels/channels]) and the Yinshu (引書, Pulling Book).
The Maishu was composed no later than the middle of the 2nd century BCE (there was a surge in medical development at the end of the 3rd century BCE). The Maishu consists of 6 texts, which were named by Donald Harper as follows:
Five Signs of Death
Care of the Body
Vessels and Vapour
The content is a mix of pre-medical healing techniques and the foundations for medical practice. The same connection between human physiology and natural structures is present here, especially in the Six Constituents.
The Yinshu contains a three-part text regarding macrobiotic techniques intended to pull qi (vapor) in and through the body. This is accomplished via gymnastic exercises, seasonal regimens, daily hygiene, and sexual practices.
Leo’s book is primarily concerned with the 1st century BCE-1st century CE text, Suwen(素問, Basic Questions), which is dedicated to the Yellow Emperor. The text is considered part of Chinese medical canonical thought, and was annotated and amended over the course of 500 years.
The Suwen connects human physiology with natural forms and structures, using the same word (mai) used for river systems as for circulatory systems. This is indicative of the larger framework that guided Chinese thought: “[the] human being as a par of nature means that, by means of intelligence, humanity is capable of co-operating with the productive cycle of heaven and earth” (x).
Schilling also mentions Stephen Owen’s “Reproduction in the Shijing (Classics of Poetry)” and how human fertility and reproduction were presented there as being aligned with agricultural cycles of sowing and harvesting. More pearl-growing for me!
Understanding Chinese views of human sexuality shine a much brighter light on pregnancy and obstetrics, as well as Chinese culture. For example, because sexuality and reproduction were seen as life-sustaining forces, the separation of the sexes in Chinese society was not a way to diminish sexuality but rather used to “control and guide human sexual behavior in certain ways believed to be consistent with the dualistic scheme of nature” (x).
The physical body was seen as an ancestral gift, and fertility an extension of that. There was a “deep concern” (ix) exhibited in Chinese literature for childbearing and fertility, as it was a way to honor one’s family and clan by continuing the ancestral line.