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Toxic Cures: Poisons and Medicines in Medieval China

Toxic Cures: Poisons and Medicines in Medieval China
125 Queen's Park, Centre for Medieval Studies, Lillian Massey Bldg. Room 310
Time: Nov 25th, 4:10 pm End: Nov 25th, 5:15 pm
Interest Categories: Science/Technology, Medieval Studies (FAS), Medicine, Faculty of , History & Philosophy of Science & Technology (FAS), East Asian Studies (FAS), 1200-1500
Lecture by Yan Liu, Andrew W. Mellon postdoctoral fellow in the humanities

The History of Premodern Medicine Seminar presents:

Dr. Yan Liu, Andrew W. Mellon postdoctoral fellow in the humanities at the Jackman Humanities Institute

Toxic Cures: Poisons and Medicines in Medieval China

A striking feature of traditional Chinese medicine, perhaps against our common knowledge, is its regular use of poisons. For example, one of the most frequently deployed drugs in China was aconite (fuzi), a highly toxic herb. Why did poisons figure prominently in traditional Chinese pharmacy? What contributed to their therapeutic value? And how does a study of poisons teach us about medieval Chinese society? Probing the roots of this tradition from the third to the tenth century, when the major outlines of Chinese toxicology took shape, my talk examines the centrality of poisons to the practice and theory of medicine in China with special attention to a variety of techniques that transformed poisons into medicines. Moreover, it explores how poisons altered the body in Daoist alchemical practice and how this knowledge shaped the medical understanding of toxic substances. I also highlight the complexity of drug materiality that defied stable categorization. Whether a substance was a medicine or a poison, I contend, always depended on the method and context of its usage, the bodily experience it induced, and its perceived value in society. This study seeks to not just unveil an important yet ignored history of Chinese medicine, but also bring fresh insights into the paradoxical nature of drug therapy in our own life.

Yan Liu is a cultural historian of pre-modern China. He holds a doctorate in biology and a second doctorate in the History of Science from Harvard University. His research explores the use of toxic substances in traditional Chinese medicine, considering pharmaceutical and religious practices across varied geographies and social contexts. He teaches with the Department of East Asian Studies.

For enquiries contact: n.everett@utoronto.ca

This event is free and open to all. Registration is not required. 

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