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Body, Mind and Spirit in Early China: Perspectives from Medicine and Excavated Texts

Jao Tsung-I Academy of Sinology (June 17, 2019)

SEMINAR SERIES : Distinguished Sinologist Lecture Series

MAJOR SPEAKER : Raphals, Lisa
LENGTH : 91 min.
ACCESS : Open to all
SUMMARY : Recent debates over a perceived antinomy between Chinese “holism” and “Western” dualism have renewed interest in questions of mind-body dualism in early Chinese thought. This talk attempts to address several problems in current discussion by turning to the evidence of medical literature and excavated texts. It argues against a problematic “mind-body” binary that ignores the very separate roles of xin 心 and shen 神. As a result, mind-body dualism and spirit/soul-body dualism are often conflated into one distinction between a material body and a – usually non-material – counterpart. This kind of dualist framework of analysis loses important dimensions of the relations between mind (and its associated faculties) and spirit (and its associated faculties).

This paper uses medical and excavated texts to argue for a largely tripartite model of the self in early Chinese texts, at least up to the Han dynasty. In this tripartite model, the self is composed of body in several senses (shen 身, ti 體, xing 形), mind or heartmind (xin 心) and spirit (shen 神). I argue that there is a broad divergence between two views of a tripartite relation between body, mind and spirit in Warring States texts. One, which I call the mind- or xin-centered view, closely aligns mind and spirit, often in a hierarchically superior relation to the body. The other, which I call the spirit- or shen-centered view, problematizes the relation between mind and spirit, and in some cases even aligns body and spirit in opposition to mind.  [Go to the full record in the library's catalogue]

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