This paper examines convergent discourses of cure, health and transcendence in fourth century Daoist scriptures. The therapeutic massages, inner awareness and visualisation practices described here are from a collection of revelations which became the founding documents for Shangqing (Upper Clarity) Daoism, one of the most influential sects of its time. Although formal theories organised these practices so that salvation superseded curing, in practice they were used together. This blending was achieved through a series of textual features and synæsthesic practices intended to address existential and bodily crises simultaneously. This paper shows how therapeutic interests were fundamental to soteriology, and how salvation informed therapy, thus drawing attention to the entanglements of religion and medicine in early medieval China.
This article is a critique of the neologism “Daoist medicine” (daojiao yixue 道教醫學) that has recently entered scholarly discourse in China. It provides evidence that this expression is an anachronism which found its way into scholarly discourse in 1995 and has now become so widely used that it is seen as representing an undisputed “historical fact.” It demonstrates that the term has no precursor in the pre-modern record, and critiques two substantive attempts to set up “Daoist medicine” as an analytical term. It reviews earlier scholarship on Daoism and medicine, or healing, within the larger context of religion and medicine, and shows how attention has shifted, particularly in relation to the notion of overlap or intersection of these historical fields of study. It proposes that earlier frameworks grounded in epistemology or simple social identity do not effectively represent the complexity of these therapies. Practice theory, on the other hand, provides a useful analytic for unpacking the organisation and transmission of curing knowledge. Such an approach foregrounds the processes and dynamics of assemblage, rather than theoretical abstractions. The article concludes by proposing a focus on the Daoing of medicine, that is, the variety of processes by which therapies come to be known as Daoist, rather than imposing an anachronistic concept like Daoist medicine.