A confluence of humors: Āyurvedic conceptions of digestion and the history of Chinese "phlegm" (tan)

Natalie Köhle*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

This article investigates the origin and the earliest, formative period of one of the major concepts in post-classical Chinese medicine, the concept of phlegm, tan !. It is the first study that examines both Chinese-and Sanskrit-language sources in seeking to answer the question whether the development of the concept of phlegm in Chinese medicine is owed to Indie influences. Following traditional Chinese scholarship, it argues that the initial emergence of the substance tan which later was to become "phlegm," should be understood as an indigenous development from the fluid yin tfc. The subsequent formation and development of the concept of phlegm in Chinese medicine, however, was influenced by Ayurveda. The influence hinges on the coincidence of Indie and Chinese intuitions about digestion.Previous scholarship on early Chinese Buddhist translations of Indie terms for phlegm and the tridosa has either claimed that variations in the terminology betrayed the Chinese translators' poor understanding of Ayurvedic concepts or that the translators creatively manipulated the terminology with a view to the cultural background of their intended audiences. By contrast, this article argues that the early terminology the Chinese translators crafted was highly accurate and faithful to their Indie source texts. It shows, by going back to the Indie classics, that the variations in Chinese terminology reflect an ancient and long-forgotten temporal shift in the perception of humors in India itself.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)465-493
Number of pages29
JournalJournal of the American Oriental Society
Volume136
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2016

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