Comparative Guts

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‘Enlightened-Hall Diagram of the Viscera’, in 1597 reprint of a 1565 Yixue gangmu, preserved in Ms sin. 11, part 1

(Zangfu Mingtang tu 臟腑明堂圖). This fold-out plate (ca. 79cm x 58cm) of a “Viscera Man” has been inserted into a manuscript (ms. sin. 11) preserved in Biblioteka Jagiellońska Kraków, Poland, digitalized by the Staatsbibliothek in Berlin.

In this 1597 reprint of a “viscera man,” the large intestine is distributed directly under the small intestine across the lower belly like floating layers of clouds above the balloon-shaped bladder. The quotation above the image deploys a bureaucratic metaphor of how the viscera function. This body-state metaphor dates to the founding theoretical text of Chinese medicine, the Inner Canon of the Yellow Emperor  (ca. 1st c. BCE), which is quoted in the above passage. The twelve visceral systems form a bureaucratic hierarchy, each with a distinct ministerial function. Whereas the cardiac system is the office of the monarch and issues consciousness, for example, the small intestine is the office of reception which transforms things and sends them out. The large intestine is the office of transportation paths from which the transformed things originate. In other words, as the “transportation ministry,” the guts are where things are moved on.