2012 New History
P. O. Box 1-44, Nankang, Taipei 11529, Taiwan, R. O. C.
02-2782-9555 # 226

Curing the Resulting Disorders:
A Survey of “Therapy by Counter-Affect” in Late Imperial China

Hsiu-fen Chen

Department of History, National Chengchi University

Chinese have recognized the role that emotions play in health and sickness since antiquity. In late imperial China, assessment of emotional states were significant in both medical theories and clinical encounters. In addition to aetiology, diagnostics and drug therapy, pre-modern Chinese physicians also developed unique therapies for treating illnesses caused by extreme emotional imbalance. These treatments by means of verbal techniques and emotional manipulation were recorded in both medical texts and literary jottings. By analyzing these source materials, this article sheds light on the emotional disorders treated by emotional therapies and talking cures in late imperial China (Yuan-Ming-Qing dynasties). First, I trace medical views of emotions and sickness since antiquity, showing how they were transmitted to later ages. Second, my focus shifts to late imperial medical cases in which therapeutic techniques of emotional manipulation and talking cures were applied. In an overall review, finally, I estimate to what extent emotional therapies were effective. I argue that successful emotional therapy depended on close interaction between the doctors, the patients, and their families. By examining the specific circumstances in which Chinese doctors practiced their healings arts and what responses they received from their clients, it is possible to explain why emotional therapy, despite its success in quite a few clinical encounters, nonetheless remained less prevalent than drug therapies in the pre-modern medical realm.

Keywords: emotions; principle of mutual conquest of the Five Phases; therapy by counter-affect; drug therapy