In recent years, with the epidemic situation in COVID-19 and the changes in international politics, the demand for realistic care for historical research has become increasingly strong, which has attracted academic attention. In order to break the national barriers of medical history research and further strengthen academic exchanges, on the afternoon of November 25, 2023, a youth workshop entitled "No Questions about the West: New Trends in Medical Social History Research" sponsored by the Center for World History and International Drug Control Policy Research of the Department of History of Shanghai University was held in Shanghai. Nearly 20 scholars from Fudan University, Shanghai University, Zhejiang University, Nanjing University, East China Normal University, Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, Shandong University, Shandong Normal University and Peking Union Medical College, as well as the University of Manchester in England, the University of Heidelberg in Germany and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the United States, attended the conference at the same time, and discussed the frontiers of medical history research from the political, economic, gender, social, knowledge and sensory perspectives.
Group photo of participants
Associate Professor Yang Changyun, deputy dean of the School of Literature of Shanghai University, presided over the opening ceremony and gave a welcome speech. He looked forward to learning from each other in medical history research, helping interdisciplinary research and their dialogue and cooperation, thus expanding the research team of medical history and cultivating the diverse horizons of young scholars’ research. In the special report session, the speaker conducted in-depth exchanges around the two major themes of medical history research: "Oriental vision" and "Western path".
First, the oriental perspective of medical history research
The theme of the first half of the conference was "Oriental Vision of Medical History Research", and the four reports mainly focused on the Middle Ages to modern times, trying to put China’s local medical history research in the perspective of the development of world history and make China voice in the international discourse system.
Jiang Shan (Peking Union Medical College) first reported the paper "The Significance of the Study on the Conceptual History of Acupuncture: Taking Ashi Point as an Example". Jiang Shan pointed out that in the current acupuncture knowledge system, Ashi point belongs to one of the three categories of acupoints. However, this knowledge comes from a folk therapy record in a corner of Qian Jin Fang. How Ashi point rose from the edge of classical literature to the core position of modern acupuncture theory is rarely discussed. Therefore, Jiang Shan traces the origin and conceptual evolution of Ashi point, and thinks that the sudden emergence of Ashi point in China originated from the Republic of China. The modernization and transformation of acupuncture theory in the Republic of China was influenced by Japan to some extent. Japan’s preference for practical technology, theoretical innovation of schools and the subsequent scientific transformation of acupuncture have become three important reasons for changing the theoretical status of Ashi point. With the translation and introduction of Japanese acupuncture textbooks in the Republic of China and the theoretical innovation of doctors in the Republic of China, Ashi point was finally reconstructed into today’s face. Commentators exchanged views with reporters on the practical pursuit of lower-level Chinese medicine, the labeling methods of 25 Chinese-translated Japanese medical books, and the relationship between the adjustment of Ashi point theory and the commercialization of acupuncture therapy.
The report of Gu Yue (Department of History, Shanghai University) is entitled "Liver disease, especially for women": Liver disease as a chronic disease and the painful experience of women in Qing Dynasty. Gu Yue introduced the research method of chronic diseases, studied the painful experience of women suffering from liver diseases in Qing Dynasty, and found that emotion became the explanatory theory of patients and their families. Chronic diseases often reflect the root of social anxiety. Here, liver disease symbolizes an emotional anxiety that women can’t suppress. Gu Yue pointed out that female patients themselves internalized their emotional anxiety into their daily coping strategies for chronic diseases. Commentators discussed the definition of emotional diseases mentioned in the article, the discussion on the correlation between emotions and diseases, and the comparative observation of China society’s control and construction of women’s diseases and their emotions based on the theory of body fluids in the 14th century.
Focusing on modern times, the third speaker, Ji Linghui (School of History, Zhejiang University), wrote a paper entitled "Preliminary Study on Health Technology Cooperation between the League of Nations and the National Government before the outbreak of the All-round Anti-Japanese War". From the perspective of globalization and nationalization, he reorganized the process of health cooperation between the League of Nations and the National Government during the Republic of China. Ji Linghui focused on the extensive health technical cooperation between the two sides before the outbreak of the All-round Anti-Japanese War, including sending experts to China, rebuilding port quarantine, helping the Yangtze River flood, establishing a central laboratory, sending experts to Europe, and pointed out that the health technical cooperation between the Ministry of Health of the League of Nations and the Ministry of Health of the Nanjing National Government was one of the important thrusts for the development of medical and health undertakings in China during the Republic of China. Commentators exchanged views with reporters on the use of archives, the writing of research summary and historical analysis, as well as diplomatic medical cooperation research.
The fourth speaker, Zhang Meng (Center for Science, Technology and Medical History of Manchester University), gave a report entitled "Exploring a new medical model: the Communist Party of China (CPC) and Peking University Medical College before and after the founding of the People’s Republic of China". Zhang Meng believes that there should be a gradual transition stage in the central task of medical and health care from the revolutionary war period to the CPC becoming the ruling party. Commentators exchanged views with reporters on the definition and social role of Chinese medical care in this paper.
Second, the western path of medical history research
The report in the second half of the conference pays attention to the research path of medical history in European countries such as France, Germany and Britain since modern times, and reviews the experience of globalization from the non-localized research materials.
Liu Xiaomeng (Department of History, Fudan University) gave a report entitled "Practical Therapy and Life Experience: Reconstructing the Collection and Production of Medical Prescriptions by French Artisans in Early Modern Times". Focusing on the manuscript numbered Ms. Fr. 640 now in the National Library of France, Liu Xiaomeng made a detailed discussion on 48 medical prescriptions in the manuscript by means of text interpretation and laboratory reconstruction, so as to get a glimpse of the folk medical concepts in early modern Europe and the skills and material culture practiced by craftsmen. The specific case reported by Liu Xiaomeng also shows the importance of reconstruction experiment, and the transformation process of materials in drug preparation is difficult to convey through the medical text itself. This ability to understand the material personally is also the meaning of popular scientific research. The reviewers discussed with the reporter the manuscripts of early modern European workers, the medical concept of ordinary people and the methods of laboratory reconstruction.
Mao Lixia (School of History and Culture, Shandong Normal University) discussed the first victory in the war between human beings and diseases-the eradication of smallpox in 1980 with the title "The beginning of smallpox eradication-on the innovation and practice of smallpox prevention in Britain in the 18th century". Mauritia believes that the eradication of smallpox began with the medical breakthrough and practice of smallpox prevention and control in Britain in the 18th century. At the same time, Mauritia also pointed out that the breakthrough and practice of smallpox prevention and control in Britain is the result of the joint efforts of all walks of life, which shows the public welfare of medicine and the ingenuity of medical practitioners, and then makes the eradication of smallpox from the foresight in the 18th century to the reality in the 20th century. Commentators discussed with the reporter about the orientation of the article, the awareness of problems and the beginning of smallpox eradication.
The report of Gu Nianmao (Department of History, East China Normal University) is entitled "robert koch and the Laboratory Turn of German Medicine in 19th Century". Gu Nianmao first explained the origin of writing this article, and his post-doctoral experience on the production and international dissemination of German bacteriology knowledge. Gu Nianmao believes that after the 1840s and 1950s, modern medicine took a "laboratory turn", from French clinical medicine focusing on pathological anatomy and clinical observation to German laboratory medicine advocating experimental reduction and regular analysis, which jointly promoted the development of modern medical science. Gu Nianmao pointed out that robert koch has made pioneering achievements in the pathogenicity of bacteria and the research methods of laboratory bacteriology, and made great efforts to promote the knowledge transfer between new laboratory discoveries and clinical treatment. The reviewers exchanged views with the reporter on the writing methods, compactness and relevance of the contents of the paper, and the countries and regions of medical social history research.
An Yongna (Department of History, Shanghai University)’ s report is entitled "The Debate over the Image of Alcoholics and the Turn of Social Governance in 19th Century Britain". An Yongna pointed out that alcoholism was a high-frequency word in British public discourse in the 19th century, but the definition of alcoholics was complicated and complicated. An Yongna believes that the increasingly serious crime of alcoholism threatens social order, and a series of spillover effects forced the British government to adjust its governance direction in the mid-19th century. On the one hand, it actively cooperated with the humanitarian public opinion of moral reform, and on the other hand, it promulgated the Insanity Act, so the Royal Madhouse became a place to legally accommodate alcoholics. The high incidence and recurrence rate of alcoholism made the Royal Madhouse, which depended on donations for its livelihood, unable to withstand its economic pressure in the late 19th century. Therefore, doctors used the right to speak on alcoholism in medicine and petitioned for another special law to manage alcoholics. In the 19th century, the multiple reversals of the image of alcoholics outlined the exploration and transformation of the British government’s governance model in the industrialization period. Commentators discussed the definition of drinking and alcoholism, the areas involved in the article and some wording with the speaker.
After the two keynote speeches, the workshop entered a round-table discussion session. Xiang Rong, Professor of History Department of Fudan University, Fan-Xiang Min, Professor of History Department of Nanjing University, Zou Xiang, Professor of History and Culture College of Shandong University, and Yongan Zhang, Professor of History Department of Shanghai University, and other experts and scholars focused on the theme of this workshop, "No Questions about the West: A New Trend of Medical Social History Research".
Professor Xiangrong regrets the great development and changes in the study of medical social history in recent years. Based on his own experience of studying PhD in Britain in 1990s, and then coming into contact with medical history, Professor Xiangrong pointed out that the research of medical social history is becoming more and more mature, and researchers have already gone beyond the general "top-down" or "bottom-up" research path, but are more thorough and in-depth. Medical social history is becoming an independent research direction, which is also related to two profound public health tests in China-SARS and COVID-19 epidemic. Later, Professor Xiangrong contacted the theme of the conference, "Ask nothing about the West", and pointed out the necessity and importance of breaking the boundary between world history and China history.
Professor Fan-Xiang Min put forward his own views on the national boundaries of medical social history. Professor Fan-Xiang Min said that the reason why we pay attention to the national topic of medical social history is not to make medical social history a national history, but to notice that the Chinese literary circles don’t know enough about the medical social history of some countries, such as French medical social history. We should pay more attention to the research of medical social history in these countries, and introduce their research methods and theories to domestic scholars, so as to promote the full integration of domestic medical social history research with the world. In addition, Professor Fan-Xiang Min believes that medical care and diseases are common problems faced by human beings, and the global spread of medicine is very rapid, but there are also countries and regions in the process of communication. If we overemphasize regions and countries, we can’t get a glimpse of the whole study of medical social history; At present, English-speaking countries dominate the research of medical history in China’s world historians, while other countries are relatively rare. If we ignore the study of medical social history in some language areas (such as Spanish-speaking areas), we will also fall into the trap of a blind eye. As for the research object of medical history, Mr. Fan-Xiang Min thinks that traditionally we are confined to orthodox medicine and medical system, and the medicine outside orthodox medicine, such as how ordinary patients seek medical advice, is often neglected.
Professor Zou Xiang talked about his feelings from the aspect of thesis writing. Based on his years of research experience, Professor Zou Xiang further pointed out that the research of medical social history should be problem-oriented and run through the whole paper, rather than deliberately following the national boundaries, because the history of bacteria and viruses will not follow the national development. Based on her visiting experience in Oxford, Mr. Zou Xiang put forward a point that needs attention, that is, writing historical papers should adhere to the historical method and should not be easily influenced by the writing methods of other disciplines. This has also aroused the high approval of Professor Xiangrong, who believes that in the process of studying medical social history from an interdisciplinary perspective, we should especially stick to the disciplinary position of history.
At the end of the meeting, Professor Yongan Zhang made a concluding speech. Professor Yongan Zhang pointed out that a small-scale workshop for young scholars is beneficial for young scholars to communicate with each other, build their own academic network, and learn from outstanding peers, so as to motivate themselves to make continuous progress on the academic road. As for the theme of this workshop-"No Questions, West and East: A New Trend of Medical Social History Research", Professor Yongan Zhang said that he chose this topic because the research of medical social history is problem-oriented and really needs to break the boundary, so as to help us find and discuss problems. In addition, breaking the boundaries between disciplines is beneficial for humanities to use many concepts pioneered by science and engineering, which may help promote our current research. Professor Yongan Zhang also pointed out that the study of medical social history has been in full swing in the west. In Britain, almost all higher-level schools have a strong medical social history team, and medical social history is also a hot direction of humanities research. In the United States, many scholars who have received systematic medical training conduct medical humanities research. It is necessary to learn from each other in the study of medical social history. In addition, Professor Yongan Zhang expressed his delight at the discussion and exchange in this workshop: young scholars are really "learning from the west without asking questions", trying to break the boundaries between disciplines and countries in the research process, and at the same time trying to enrich their research by using multi-source files and multi-country and multi-language materials. At the same time, Professor Yongan Zhang also raised two questions. First, we should strive to do research that can attract the attention and recognition of the academic circles in the target countries, so as to expand the influence of research. Second, we should advocate more transnational and cross-regional research.And pay attention to putting China in the field of vision, so that more breakthroughs may be made. Finally, Professor Yongan Zhang expressed his expectation for the future workshop for young scholars, hoping that more different scholars would participate in the exchange and spark more thoughts.