The Tongwenguan (同文馆) Translation of Gray’s Anatomy and the exchange of medical knowledge between China and the West

May 6, 2014 | 11:30 AM

Gao Xi (Professor of History and Medical History, Department of History, Fudan University; Associate, Harvard-Yenching Institute)
Chair and Discussant: Shigehisa Kuriyama (Reischauer Institute Professor of Cultural History, EALC, Harvard University)

Anatomy is the fundamental knowledge for medical science. Initially, this was also known as the essential concept and study that differentiated Chinese medicine from that of the west. When Chinese medicine encountered western medical science in the late Qing dynasty, the direct conflict lied in the knowledge systems used to explain body structure, physiological function and the cause of diseases. Both medical missionaries, who started propagating western medicine in China, and the late Qing Chinese intellectuals who criticized Chinese medicine for falling behind that of the west, utilized anatomy as the knowledge reference standard. This talk demonstrates that the establishment of Chinese modern medicine is built on the physical body’s different understanding and interaction between the Chinese and the western systems. Gray’s Anatomy is the classic textbook of western anatomy. Through the study of this book’s official Chinese translation (Tongwenguan 同文馆版) and aspects such as texts, images, terminology, transmission routes and social effects, this talk, on the one hand, discusses how westerners crossed the barrier of culture and morality, and ultimately made the spread of knowledge possible; how to translate terminologies in interpretations and borrow traditional Chinese knowledge and cultural conventions. On the other hand, this talk also investigates the Chinese officials’ attitude when acknowledging the study of anatomy; how they accepted the knowledge and study yet simultaneously refused the action of dissection; how to reconstruct and establish the Chinese medical science system under the exchange of the medical knowledge between China and the west.