Comparative Guts

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800–2000 CE

China and Japan in the Modern Period

Che-Chia Chang

Associate Research Fellow, Institute of Modern History, Academia Sinica
China is located in East Asia, and its latitude spans cold, warm, and tropical regions, and its external land or sea traffic is prosperous. Since the beginning of its writing system more than 3,000 years ago, it has continued to record the exchanges and struggles with surrounding civilizations, and has gradually grown into a multi-ethnic power. In addition to its rich experience in interacting with other cultures, China also has a high degree of religious tolerance, whether it is native Taoism (officially started in the 2nd century) and Shamanism, or Buddhism from India (introduced in the 1st century BC), Islam from the Middle East (introduced in the 7th century), and Christianity from the West (in which Nestorianism was first introduced in the 7th century), all coexisted and flourished in China, leaving behind a huge amount of historical documents and images. Not only that, China is also an exporter of religions. In particular, Buddhism, whether Indian or Sinicized, was introduced to Korea (from the 4th century onwards) and Japan (from the 6th century onwards) using China as a springboard, and had a profound impact on the cultures of these regions. Although some historical materials have been lost in China, we can still know the grand occasion through the preservation of Korea and Japan.
Guts in China and Japan in the Modern Period

Many monks utilize medicine as a mean for religious purposes, so some images of internal organs appear in this context. Of the images selected this time, two were determined to be made to teach medical doctrines, and the images serve as powerful visual aids to make the meaning of the text clearer. Fig 3 faithfully reproduces the painting details and graphic correspondence of Western anatomy books (Saunders & Lee, 1981). Although the original intention was to show the emperor alone, the Jesuits also expected that his Majesty would order it to be published throughout the Empire. A manuscript in Fig 2 suggests that the scroll is the product of an esoteric trend, and the student who asked to accept it must never show it to anyone other than his future successor. However, the relationship between the viscera and cosmic elements depicted in the picture scrolls is in line with the mainstream theory without much peculiarity. Therefore, some scholars believe that it mainly plays a role in ritual medicine (Triplett, 2015). Scholars also suggest that Fig 1 has played its role in a ritual (Robson, 2014). To hide the viscera model inside the Buddha statue forever, it is assumed that only the moment it is placed will be seen by others. Even so, reverently crafted models should still reflect the visceral image in the maker’s mind. Surprisingly, this case is different from the case of the orthodox internal organs, making one wonders whether other versions of the human body view are circulated among the people. Only Fig 4 is the one where the intestines appear alone. This image is open to viewing in the public sphere. Intestines do not have the same priority as the five internal organs in Chinese medical traditions. But it is no less active in the everyday language of the people. The word “entrails all cut” is said to have originated from an actual anatomical observation of a mother monkey who lost her beloved child in the fourth century, and is used to describe extreme grief. The Fig 4 story takes this rhetoric in another direction. The hero annihilated the enemy in excruciating pain, so his bravery deserved to be a god.

I am grateful to Dr. Tatara Keisuke for his help with sourcing the images for this contribution.