Between Food and Medicine: A Preliminary Exploration of the Consumption of Ginseng, Bird’s Nest, Sea Cucumber, and Shark Fin in Early Modern China | February 20, 2024
Minghui Hu, Associate Professor of History, University of California Santa Cruz
This study examines the confluence of dietary and medicinal practices in early modern China, focusing on four specific items: ginseng, bird's nest, sea cucumber, and shark fin. These substances, esteemed for their nutritional and therapeutic properties, provide a distinctive lens through which to view the cultural, social, and economic dimensions of Chinese dietary customs and traditional medicine during this era.
In early modern China, the demarcation between food and medicine was frequently ambiguous. This ambiguity was particularly pronounced in consuming certain items valued not only for their gastronomic appeal but also for their purported health advantages. Ginseng, bird's nest, sea cucumber, and shark fin are prime examples of this phenomenon and indicate luxury consumption.
Ginseng, often hailed as a cure-all, was consumed for various purported benefits, including energy enhancement, cognitive function improvement, and longevity. Its luxury item status also made it a symbol of affluence and social standing. Similarly, bird's nest, derived primarily from the saliva of swiftlets, was another item of luxury, consumed for its alleged benefits in respiratory health and skin complexion. The sea cucumber, a marine organism, was sought after for its potential benefits in joint health and anti-inflammatory properties. Shark fin, predominantly used in shark fin soup, symbolized prestige and luxury. Despite its limited flavor profile, it was valued for its texture and assumed health benefits, such as enhancing sexual potency and preventing heart disease.
The consumption of these four items in early modern China exemplifies the intricate interaction between dietary and medicinal practices. These substances were integral to the diet and bore significant cultural, social, and economic implications. Their use reflects broader themes of health, wealth, and status within Chinese society and an evolving comprehension of the relationship between diet and health.
This research aims to investigate the perceived medicinal benefits of these foods, their impact on tax regulations and to draw preliminary conclusions about their role in the cultural and social dynamics of the period. This exploration will contribute to a deeper understanding of the complex interplay between nourishment and medicine in the historical context of early modern China.
Minghui Hu studied structural engineering with computer-assisted analysis and design in Taiwan and earned his BS in 1989. Upon receiving his MS from Virginia Tech’s Science and Technology Studies graduate program, he moved to Los Angeles to pursue his PhD in History at UCLA. Hu was a computer programmer at a child psychiatrist lab in a UCLA hospital while pursuing a PhD in History. Upon completing his dissertation in the History of Science program at UCLA in 2004, he moved to the University of Chicago as an Andrew Mellon postdoctoral fellow. Hu joined the faculty of History at UCSC in 2005. Minghui Hu has published a monograph titled “China’s Transition to Modernity: The New Classical Vision of Dai Zhen” (Washington 2015; the Chinese translation is forthcoming in early 2024) and co-edited Cosmopolitanism in China, 1600-1950 (Cambria 2016) with Johan Elverskog. His articles have appeared in several academic journals, including The International History Review, Frontier of History in China, Twentieth-First Century, Xue Heng, and Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies. He has completed a book manuscript titled “Waiting for the Barbarians: A History of Geopolitics in Early Modern China” (Cambria, 2025). Data mining and the field of digital humanities are the main focus of his future research. He will also continue to study the history of early modern China.
Gender and Friendship in Chinese Literature | January 16, 2024
Wai-yee Li, 1879 Professor of Chinese Literature, Harvard University
The talk explores the cultural values associated with friendship in the Chinese tradition by focusing on its implications for its political imagination and moral imagination. The lacunae in such discourses may be addressed by a new focus on the relationship between gender and friendship. We will think about the role of women in stories of male friendship, the friendship between women, and the redefinition of family and social roles once we introduce women and gender into the discourse of friendship.
Wai-yee Li is the 1879 Professor of Chinese Literature at Harvard University. Her research interests include Ming Qing literature and culture as well as early Chinese thought and historiography.
Laozi’s Perspectives on Innovation | November 28, 2023
Otto Chui-Chau Lin, Senior Advisor to the President, Vice Chancellor, Hong Kong Baptist University
Computers, smart phones, cloud computing and intelligent robots all embody the concept of innovation as embedded in Laozi’s (老子) theories of nature- you (有） and wu (無), or, the Real and Virtual. In this talk, Dr. Lin explains why the teachings of this sagacious sixth century BCE Chinese philosopher are extremely precious for nurturing scientific innovation - the application of science to create new value or new wealth. He will also highlight Laozi’s concepts of respect, trust, and diversity and discuss why all are fundamental to innovation sustainability.
Otto Chui-Chau Lin has been a leading figure in advocating the creation of innovation systems in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and China. From 1987-1994, he served as President of Taiwan's Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI), a consortium of applied technology laboratories dedicated to the development of Taiwan's high-tech industry into fields such as semiconductors, automation, integrated circuit testing, optical electronic systems, consumer electronics, composite materials, and specialty chemicals. From 1997-2007, Lin served as Vice-President for Research and Development at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), spearheading the creation of the Nansha IT Park to promote technology development in the Pearl River Delta. After his retirement in 2009, Lin has continued to lecture, consult, and teach, serving as honorary professor and senior advisor at several universities including Tsinghua (Beijing), Shanghai Jiaotong, Hong Kong Polytech, and Hong Kong Baptist. He has written four books in Chinese and one in English, focusing on the connections between soft power, innovation, entrepreneurship, and the philosophies of Laozi and Confucius.
Righteous Revolutionaries: Morality, Mobilization, and Violence in the Making of the Chinese State | November 7, 2023
Jeffrey Javed, Former Senior Staff Researcher at Shopify and Meta; Former LRCCS Postdoctoral Fellow
How did the Chinese state establish its authority following the 1949 revolution? In this talk, Dr. Javed examines the Chinese Communist Party’s mass mobilization of violence during its land reform campaign in the early 1950s, one of the most violent and successful state-building efforts in history. Using an array of novel archival, documentary, and quantitative historical data, he will illustrate that China’s land reform campaign was not just about economic redistribution but rather part of a larger, brutally violent state-building effort to delegitimize the new party-state’s internal rivals and establish its normative authority.
Jeffrey Javed is a former postdoctoral fellow at the Lieberthal-Rogel Center for Chinese Studies and the Weiser Center for Emerging Democracies at the University of Michigan. He currently works in the tech industry (former Senior Staff Researcher at Shopify and Staff Researcher at Meta), where he researches data privacy and the benefits and risks of AI-powered products. He received his PhD from the Department of Government at Harvard in 2017.
Bauhaus and Contemporary China | October 24, 2023
Endi Poskovic, Professor of Art and Design, University of Michigan
In this travelogue slide lecture, Professor Endi Poskovic will discuss his creative inquiry into present day China by examining the work of architect Wang Shu, specifically his Ningbo Yinzhou Museum, China Academy of Art in Hangzhou, the first art and design university and first graduate school in Chinese history, and the newly opened China Design Museum in Hangzhou, which hosts Asia's largest art collection of Bauhaus objects and artifacts, the 20th century's most important school of architecture, design and art.
Born and raised in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Endi Poskovic was educated in Yugoslavia, Norway, and the United States. His works have been exhibited worldwide in numerous international biennials and triennials, and have brought him many notable awards and honors, including grants and fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the United States Fulbright Commission, the John D. Rockefeller Foundation, the Bellagio Center, the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, the Norwegian Government, the Camargo Foundation, the Flemish Ministry of Culture, the New York State Council on the Arts, the Macdowell, and the Art Matters Foundation, among others. Museum collections which hold works by the artist include the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University; the Detroit Institute of Arts; the Art Museum of Estonia, Tallinn; Fondation Fernet Branca, France; Alive Jincheon Printmaking Museum, South Korea; the University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art, and many others. Endi Poskovic is Professor of Art and Design at the University of Michigan.
Disciplining Business: Reinventing CCP Networks as Tools of Economic Governance under Xi | October 10, 2023
Daniel Koss, Research Scholar and Associate Senior Lecturer, Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, Harvard University
Over the last decade, the CCP deployed discipline inspectors not only to fight corruption, but also to assert the authority of party networks in businesses, in the service of Xi Jinping’s ambitions for economic governance. Focusing on the banking sector, this talk shows that transformative change is underway: Business leaders adopt a new discourse submitting to the CPC’s open-ended authority; formal rules and incentive systems enshrine the Party’s authority; and party leaders create precedents for politically oriented banking.
Daniel Koss is a political scientist working as a Research Scholar and Associate Senior Lecturer in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at Harvard University. Previously, he served as an Assistant Professor at Academia Sinica in Taipei. Koss’s research focuses on political parties and East Asian politics, with a particular interest in history. His first book, published by Cambridge University Press in 2018, is entitled “Where the Party Rules: The Rank and File of China’s Communist State”. He now works on a book manuscript about East Asia’s other perennial ruling party, namely the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan.
Dao: A Second Century BCE Conceptual Biography | October 3, 2023
Mark Csikszentmihàlyi, Professor of East Asian Languages and Cultures, Eliaser Chair of International Studies; Director, Group in the Study of Religion, University of California at Berkeley
This talk looks at the different roles that the concept of Dao played in political and philosophical arguments, and epistemically across multiple discourses and genres in the 100's BCE. It centers on three key sources: the Changsha Mawangdui excavated texts (circa 168 BCE), the Huainan court texts sponsored by Liu An (179-122 BCE), and the Records of the Archivist (Shiji) produced by the Simas at the end of the century.
Dr. Csikszentmihàlyi is the Eliaser Chair of International Studies, Interim Chair of the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, and Director of the Group in the Study of Religion at University of California at Berkeley. He has a PhD in Asian Languages from Stanford University and an AB in East Asian Languages and Civilizations from Harvard University. He uses both excavated and transmitted texts to reconstruct the religions, philosophies, and cultures of early China. His most recent book is "Technical Arts in the Han Histories: Tables and Treatises in the Shiji and Hanshu" (2021) and next year Reaktion Books will publish his “Confucius: A New Tradition.” He is also the editor of the journal "Early China."
If You Meet the Medical Buddha on the Road, Kill Him! Tibetan Buddhist Refusals of Brainhood and/as the Figure of Modernity | September 26, 2023
Matthew King, Director of Asian Studies, Professor of Transnational Buddhism, University of California, Riverside
Buddhists in the last century have hardly been unanimous in seeing Dharmic models of body-mind as commensurable with those of science and biomedicine. Despite this, the intellectual rigor and analytical creativity of Buddhist rejections of materialist models of body-mind, empiricism, and scientism remain curiously understudied. This talk surveys the material logics of an extensive refusal of brainhood and the authority of the brain sciences staged by the Tibetan dialectician Lobsang Gyatso (Blo bzang rgya mtsho, 1928-1997).
Matthew King is Director of Asian Studies and Professor of Transnational Buddhism at the University of California, Riverside. He is the author of many articles on Buddhist intellectual history along the Tibeto-Mongolian interface and on Tibetan Buddhist scholastic interpretations of the Qing Empire, state socialism, and humanism. His first book, "Ocean of Milk, Ocean of Blood: A Mongolian Monk in the Ruins of the Qing Empire" (Columbia University Press, 2019) won several awards including the American Academy of Religion Best Book Award in Textual Studies. His most recent book is entitled In the "Forest of the Blind: The Eurasian Journey of Faxian's Record of Buddhist Kingdoms" (Columbia University Press, 2022).
Changing Conceptions of “Human Completing” (ren cheng) in Late Warring States and Early Han Texts | September 19, 2023
Alexus McLeod, Professor of Religious Studies, Indiana University, Bloomington
A common refrain in late Warring States and early Han texts is that tian sheng ren cheng 天生人成 (heaven generates, humanity completes). There are variations of this statement in a number of texts in the period, including the Xunzi, Zhuangzi, and Chunqiu Fanlu. The idea is developed in a number of other texts as well, such as the Huainanzi. Dr. Mcleod discusses here the changing conception of the notion of “human completing” in early Han philosophy, which coincides with a move toward naturalist metaphysics and correlative cosmology. He argues that the ethical conception of human completing found in the Xunzi gave way to a metaphysical conception of human completion found in the Chunqiu Fanlu and Huainanzi, with heavy influence of the Zhuangzi. Looking to a number of specific examples in the Chunqiu Fanlu and Huainanzi, he will reveal the ways in which this metaphysical shift led to cheng being seen as part of the process of constructing the cosmos itself, thereby leading to an understanding of humanity as playing a pivotal role in determining the natural constitution of the world we inhabit.
Alexus McLeod is Professor of Religious Studies at Indiana University. His work is primarily in Early Chinese Philosophy and Mesoamerican Philosophy. He is author of a number of works in each area, most recently "The Dao of Madness: Mental Illness and Self-Cultivation in Early Chinese Philosophy and Medicine" (Oxford University Press, 2021) and "An Introduction to Mesoamerican Philosophy" (Cambridge University Press, 2023). He is also editor of the journal "The Philosophical Forum."