I bought this book back in May and have been waiting till I got to a far enough point in the dissertation to read it as my reward! I think it fairly safe to say that this was my favourite non-fiction book I read in 2010! While the title includes medicine, the book is much more focused on the magic side of things. This book covers everything, it looks at the Taoist and Buddhist perspectives on demons, exorcism, sigils, spells, spirit posession and healing. It covers mostly the early modern period, with references from mainly the Han to the Song. But there are also some references to contemporary practices as well. It is the most comprehensive book on Chinese magic I've read, but at the same time I'm not sure I'd recommend it to someone who wasn't already familiar with the area as he doesn't spend time explaining the different types of Taoism, Buddhism and context but it is assumed that the reader knows.
The first chapter on Disease and the Taoist law covered stuff I was mostly already familiar with. The cause of sickness in Taoism being the result of sin, though it could be the sins of ones ancestors. What was most interesting were the conclusions that Strickmann drew at the end of this chapter for how Taoism blaming ancestors for troubles was an attempt to break away from the ancesteral worship.
Demonology and epidemiology looked at the representation of Buddhist, Taoist and indigeonous demons (the last part based on the works of Ko Hung).
The literature of spells takes several Buddhist and Taoist texts and offers large portions of them in translation. The texts are both spells and demonologies that are supposed to give the person who reads them control over the demons mentioned in the text, thus being able to command the demons and cure the person who is infected.
The chapter on Ensigillation was the most interesting to me as this was the chapter that had the most newest material for me. It looked at the similiarites in the Buddhist and Taoist tradition of using seals to cure people and control demons. There were seals that made you invisible so you could sneak into the women's quarters, as well as ones that cured the sick. Here were the most "magical" of claims. There was also reference to the seals being used as printing on paper, and then these copies being used for various magical purposes.
The geneology of spirit posession was very interesting as it made me interested in Japanese history for the first time. I learned that in the 12th century there was a spate of demon posession at the royal court and that many women became infected. What was interesting was that the priests were using girl mediums to cure the posession. This was exactly what the Taoist priests were doing using boy mediums in China. It made me interested to research this area more and see if anyone had done a gender analysis on this topic. This chapter also had a small failing that while it was very detailed about the Tantric Buddhist side of using mediums to cure demon posession, it did not contrast these with the thunder rites used in China. I would have loved to have seen a comparison using Davis' work on Song China, but then this book may have originally been written before that was done. But I think this is a topic someone really needs to pick up on.
The last chapter, Tantrists, Foxes and Shamans strayed a little too far from China and focused a bit too much on Japan for my tastes. It was as if once he started talking about Tantric Buddhism he found it hard to talk about anything else. Still the discussion of "shamanism" was quite interesting.
All told a wonderful book that I will be re-reading and using as reference for years....Continua