This article sets out to explore the ideas and practices of yangsheng (nourishing life or health preservation) in the late Ming, i.e. late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century China. Yangsheng had long played a key role in the traditions of Chinese medicine, religions and court societies. Initially restricted to certain social classes and milieux, knowledge of yangsheng began to spread much more widely from the Song dynasty (960–1279) onwards, mostly owing to rapid social and economic change. In this context, the theories and practices of yangsheng attracted the attention and curiosity of many scholars. The popularisation of yangsheng peaked in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Numerous literary works, essay collections and household encyclopaedias for everyday use have passages and sections on yangsheng. They describe various ideas and techniques of yangsheng by means of regulating the body in daily life, involving sleeping, exercising, washing, eating, drinking, etc. Through a survey of the most famous late Ming work on yangsheng, Zunsheng bajian (1591), this article attempts to highlight how yangsheng came to dominate the scholarly lifestyle. It will give a clear picture of the ideas of a late Ming literatus on prolonging life and replenishing the body, while showing how these practices were inspired by the flourishing material culture of the late Ming as a whole.
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