P12. Military, Medicine, and Society in China 1400-1800

Session: Session 2, 1:45-3:15 pm, Friday 9/29

Category: Individual Papers

Location: Humanities

Chair: Hanyun Zeng (University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign)

Paper Presenters: Forrest McSweeney, Chang Xu, Jinju Wu

Healing at the Margins: The Eight Banners and Military Medicine from the Court to the Qing Frontier

Speaker: Forrest McSweeney
Role: Paper Presenter
Institution/Affiliation: University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
Abstract: The Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) Eight Banners, as a comprehensive institution, merged both social and military prerogatives, constructing a privileged social status among the Manchus while also spearheading much of the Qing state’s military campaigns and assisting its police functions. Its hybrid nature and the special status of the bannermen thus provided an ideal platform upon which the Qing emperors could practice imperial state medicine—the extended use of medical assets designed for court and imperial use, notably as a mechanism of state power projection. The Qing emperors applied court healing practices onto its bannermen, reinforcing personalized patrimonial relationships between themselves and their favored warrior subjects. As Qing conquest brought the empire’s borders, and the Eight Banners, further into central Asia, banner medicine became a diplomatic mechanism, with Qing rulers providing the Kazakh Sultans with medical treatment. Ultimately, among its bannermen and through its highest-ranking institutional practitioners, the Qing constructed an eclectic healing system assembled from a variety of healing strategies drawn from Chinese, Mongolian, and Tibetan traditions. Qing rulers brought centralized medicine into a colonial context by circulating drugs to control the spread of smallpox while dispatching bonesetters to correct injury. The Qing state also institutionalized among banner households Chinese discourses of madness feng 瘋 to both account for and regulate domestic violence in an effort to shift regulation of the mentally infirm to the household level. Overall, Qing military medicine bound both the Banners and the territory they helped to conquer closer to the imperial center.

Healing for all: governing the collective in eighteenth-century Qing military institutions

Speaker: Chang Xu
Role: Paper Presenter
Institution/Affiliation: Washington University in St. Louis
Abstract: While sickness is a profoundly personal experience, military institutions prioritize the collective over the individual. This paper examines the management of individualized diseases and pain in Qing military institutions through the dispatched physicians, compound medicines, and medicinal objects. By demonstrating how the body was consumed, cured, and conceived in military practices in the eighteenth-century China, this project explores the idea of transferrable body in early modern Chinese warfare and revises the long-standing assumption of classical Chinese medicine as individualistic, grounded mainly in herbal remedies. It reveals that the body was porous and transferrable, susceptible to daily activities and the environment. On the one hand, it was consumed in military practices as both a target of attack and disposable machinery. On the other hand, the body must be taken care of for sustainability. Moreover, medical practice within military context demonstrates an alternative approach to the body and medication carried out by compound medicines. In contract to medical practitioners’ custom-tailored decoction for individual patients, these compound medicines were prepared in advance for potential diseases and emergency applications. Overall, military medicine in late imperial China was not simply a replica or subfield of classical Chinese medicine. It addresses specific physiological conditions and environmental challenges of military contexts, with a greater emphasis on the group than the individual.

Barbarians’ Firearms in the 18th and 19th Centuries Miao Frontier

Speaker: Jinju Wu
Role: Paper Presenter
Institution/Affiliation: University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
Abstract: From the perspective of the center, the Miao frontier straddling Eastern Guizhou and Western Hunan was a backwater where the indigenous Miao needed to be culturally civilized and technologically enlightened. However, during the 18th and the early 19th centuries, the Miao people there already extensively used firearms, and their gun technology was comparable to, if not more advanced than, those of most Qing troops. This paper draws attention to the understudied issue of the Miao’s firearms during the past two centuries. By examining archival documents, local gazetteers, and literati’s writings, it seeks to counter the popular stereotype of the frontier and write history from the perspective of the margin.