Thesis ID: CBB460895891

Medicine, Monasteries and Empire: Tibetan Buddhism and the Politics of Learning in Qing China (2015)


Representing the first comprehensive study of Tibetan medical institutions, this dissertation argues that medicine played a crucial role in the development of Tibetan Buddhism outside of Tibet during the Qing dynasty (1644-1911), while Tibetan Buddhism played a vital role in the governance of the northern and western borderlands of the Qing Empire. During the same period remembered today for the rise of science along mercantile-colonialist sea routes, an inland network of Tibetan Buddhist monastic medical colleges (gso rig or sman pa grwa tshang) proliferated in tandem with the expansion of the Qing Empire over Inner Asia. My study examines these developments from a regional rather than an anachronistic nation-state perspective, historicizing both the "Tibetan" medical system and its community of practitioners within the context of Qing imperial expansion and decline. Combining the approaches of intellectual and institutional history, I argue that the medical colleges of Tibetan Buddhist monasteries bridged the realms of ritual and materiality that we understand as separate today, providing a key site for the display of benevolent governance, and serving as a vital forum for intellectual and material exchange between the Qing court and peoples of the Tibetan Buddhist frontiers. The "monastic guidelines" (bca' yig) of Tibetan medical colleges provide a window into these institutions' ritual and medical curricula, as well as debates over medical orthodoxy that took place within and between them. Historical narratives within monastic guidelines served as frameworks of legitimacy and templates for ritual practice, and the boundaries of medicine as a discipline were negotiated through the selective incorporation of various medical lineages and traditions. I explore the relationship between ritual debates, doctrinal debates, and ideas about how to both encourage and circumscribe experience within the monastic guidelines of medical colleges. One of the major issues at stake was the relationship between innovation and revelation, as physicians could claim a special insight into the experience of their predecessors in a medical lineage. While innovation was necessary for expertise in healing, revelation was potentially dangerous to the state. Such medical debates give us insight into ideas about the relationship between social and epistemic order taught within Tibetan Buddhist institutions as they spread within the Qing Empire. With the advent of new ways of defining territorial and disciplinary boundaries in the early twentieth century, ritual technologies for defining social and epistemic order were replaced by new institutional structures. I consider why the greater circulation of medical knowledge within the Qing Empire was followed by a fragmentation of medical nationalisms. While Han Chinese nationalists embraced the culture of science as a defensive strategy against Western powers and as a political strategy to distance themselves from the Qing formation, Tibetan Buddhists did not seek such a radical break. Similar and connected medical reforms in Lhasa, Eastern Tibet, Mongolia, and Buryatia reveal the continuity of Tibetan Buddhist knowledge networks and early cooperation among their separate nationalist projects. In the broader context of the history of science, the example of Tibetan Buddhist medical institutions points to the centrality of early modern networks of knowledge in determining modern political configurations.

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Authors & Contributors
Salguero, C. Pierce
Faure, Bernard
Garrett, Frances Mary
Gyatso, Janet
Strickmann, Michel
Liu, Shu-fen
Asian Medicine: Tradition and Modernity
East Asian Science, Technology, and Medicine
Lishi yuyan yanjiuso jikan (Bulletin of the Institute of History and Philology, Academia Sinica)
History of Religions
Micrologus: Nature, Sciences and Medieval Societies
Stanford University Press
University of Pennsylvania Press
Harvard University
Princeton University
Johns Hopkins University
East Asia, civilization and culture
Medicine and religion
Medicine, traditional
India, civilization and culture
Saṅs-rgya-rgya-mtsho, Sde-srid
Chang, Yu
Time Periods
17th century
Tang dynasty (China, 618-907)
Song Dynasty (China, 960-1279)
Qing dynasty (China, 1644-1912)

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