Blood, Phlegm, Bile, and Qi: Bodily Fluids in Chinese and European Medicine

CIW Public Lecture


Various speakers


Auditorium, China in the World Building (188), Fellows Lane, ANU


Sunday, 17 December, 2017 - 15:00 to 17:00

Image: Alkama #13, artwork by Frederic Fontenoy

Registration essential

No matter whether we deal with academic or popular discourse, Chinese medicine is usually described as ‘energetic medicine’ that cures mysteriously, through manipulating flows of energy, balancing yin and yang and regulating abstract macrocosmic correspondence. This then is often juxtaposed with material concerns of European medicine. Yet, when we take a closer look at a Chinese doctor’s practice, we quickly discover that her everyday work revolves around the manipulation of fluids, which she achieves mostly through drugs. Both fluids and drugs are quite real – and sometimes even gross – in their materiality. This invites us to confront our presuppositions about both Chinese and European medicine, and to compare the two traditions on equal grounds, as fluid-based, humoral traditions of healing.

This public lecture consists of five presentations:

Bodily Fluids and the History of Chinese Medicine

Speaker: Shigehisa Kuriyama, Reischauer Institute Professor of Cultural History at Harvard University

This lecture spotlights fluids in traditional Chinese medicine. Kuriyama’s goals are twofold. He hopes to show, on the one hand, how focusing on fluids opens up new perspectives on the history of the Chinese body, and suggests a host of fresh and fascinating lines of inquiry. At the same time, and conversely, he hopes to show how the study of fluids in Chinese medicine compels us to reexamine longstanding tacit assumptions, and to ask anew: “What exactly do we mean by a bodily fluid?”

Bodily Fluids and the Anthropology of Chinese Drugs

Speaker: Lena Springer, Research Associate at Charité Medical University Berlin

This lecture probes the interplay of drugs and bodily fluids. Based on fieldwork in China and on archival studies, Springer illustrates the process in which manufacturers extract dry or liquid drugs from plants and animals and how – in the final stage – these drugs transform patients’ bodily fluids. Thus, we may grasp how healing materials change in the course of production, and what they subsequently change inside the body. Interactions with fluids of living organisms transform the dry and lifeless condition of drugs.

Bodily Fluids in the Practice of Chinese Medicine

Speaker: Steven Clavey, Registered Practitioner of Chinese medicine, Melbourne

This lecture discusses several symptoms, such as palpitations, vertigo and hot flushes, in which certain patterns of aetiology can be attributed to fluid pathology by Chinese medicine, and how they are treated by restoring fluid metabolism to normal functioning.

Bodily Fluids in Art

Speaker: Nina Sellars, SymbioticA Artist in Residence at the University of Western Australia

This presentation considers the fluid matter of adipose tissue (aka fat) and its representation, or lack thereof, in the Western practice of anatomical illustration. Positioning the discussion of these visual archives in a broader history of anatomy, the talk presents a twofold aim – to extend our contemporary understanding of fat, in a way that accommodates fat in all its complexity, and at the same time to modify our historical perception of anatomy, realized through a careful analysis of its visual practices.

Fluid and Flow: the Art of Liquid Control

Speaker: Brooke Holmes, Robert F. Goheen Professor in the Humanities at Princeton University

This presentation emerges from a multi-media collaboration between the historian of ancient Greco-Roman medicine Brooke Holmes and the sculptor Martha Friedman. Reflecting on the historical and conceptual relationship between the physician and the sculptor, Holmes and Friedman use text, film, and the medium of rubber to explore the fluid body of early Greek medicine as both an object of technical knowledge and control and as a terrain with its own rules and “automatic” movements. They ask: what would it mean for the one with technical knowledge of the body to also be inhabited by the logic of its fluids?

This lecture is free and open to the public. We invite you to meet the speakers and socialise after the lecture when drinks and snacks will be served.

Image: Alkama #13, artwork by Frédéric Fontenoy



Jasmine Lin
02 6125 9060

Venue map

Updated:  24 April, 2017/Responsible Officer:  Dean, ANU College of Asia & the Pacific/Page Contact:  CAP Web Team