Comparative Guts

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900 – 1400 CE

The body maps of Master
Yan Luo

as used in meditation,
anatomically corrected by superintendent Zhu

rodo pfister

Research Institute for the History of Afroeurasian Life Sciences (RIHAELS), Basel, Switzerland

Songs of the Bodily Husk (Ti ke ge  體殼歌) is a composite text attributed to a spurious 10th c. CE figure, Master Yan Luo 煙蘿子 of the Yan 燕 family. He is said to come from the Wangwu region (in today’s northern Henan), known as the author of lost texts on Daoist breathing and meditation techniques, as well as being the creator of the extant body maps under discussion. The work was printed in 1445/1446 CE in the Daoist Canon, fasc. 125, no. 263, juan 18: 1a-10b. In a later version the illustrations are redrawn, and appear with the title Songs of the Bodily Husk of Master Yan Luo (Yan Luo zi Ti ke ge  煙蘿子體殼歌) in Daoist Texts Outside the Canon, vol. 9: 373-378.

The source unites twenty-five sections: a rhymed preamble (§1), two poems (§§2-3), six body maps (§§4-9), the Treatise on the Inner Realm by Superintendent Zhu (Zhu ti dian nei jing lun  朱提點內境論), which includes critical comments on the body maps (§10), a meditation manual and instruction called Master Yan Luo’s Guideline on Inner Observation (Yan Luo zi nei guan jing  煙蘿子內觀經) (§11). Short elucidations treat topics of physiological alchemy (nei dan  內丹), the head and brain (§§12-14, 20-24), or give summary treatises on the five storehouses (§§15-19). Talisman illustrations conclude the text (§25).

Several kinds of knowledge fields mingle, interact and lead to new questions. The self-cultivation practice called ‘inner observation’ (nèi guān  內觀) had opened a profound and detailed inner world, each adept could relate to in their practice.

The body maps are profusely labelled. More than 110 labels enable one to learn a linguistic and visual glossary of technical terms. It thus emerges a thick intertextual network referencing aspects of self-cultivation techniques that help to prescriptively structure one’s bodily awareness. Terms used in medicine only in part overlap with everyday words common for animal and human body parts.

Two emic categories classify the body map series: four are of the ‘Maps of Master Yan Luo’ (Yan Luo zi tú  煙蘿子圖) type, two are ‘Five Storehouses Maps’ (wǔ zàng tú  五臟圖). Both kinds of illustrations were used in visualisation exercises in order to guide one’s bodily awareness. Painted on hanging scrolls these images even became lifestyle objects, found in the households of literati and officials.

Superintendent Zhu is keenly aware of the clash between field dissection of dead bodies and inner observation of one’s own experiences, as he asks rhetorically:

“How can one tell apart the foot jué yīn [channel] being subjected to a disorder—assuming the tongue rolls up and the testicles shrink [this being symptoms of the diseased channel]— compared to the fright of knive and saw [used in dissection]?”

Nevertheless, he corrected the drawings, when necessary, and pointed in his Treatise  to several controversial points arising in his time. Some problematic points appear marked in black colour on the six charts.

The above features make of the body maps in the Songs of the Bodily Husk a unique documentation of human curiosity.


Pfister, Rodo (2016) On the Meditative Use of the Body Maps Found in the Composite Text ‘Songs of the Bodily Husk’ (Ti ke ge), in Curare – Journal of Medical Anthropology 39(2016)1: 56–74.


Travel to Zhang’s Mountaineer Garden



On the wall one scroll • a Master Yan Luo,
in pots a thousand bouquets • brocade blankets pile.
Being used to join masters and act as wine companions,
yet unsuspecting the regional inspector to open up as well.
Slenderly entering the wheat the citron daylily’s muss,
whispering winds blow up poems hundred showers of rain fall.
Hearing the Daoist gentleman’s home • being fond of spring water,
the carriage returns at the request • to bring back the bottles’ full.

(Dongpo quanji  9: 9a-b)