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Book review: Needles, Herbs, Gods, and Ghosts, by Linda L. Barnes

This book seems to have begun life as a PhD dissertation and that is what it reads like. In other words, there is a huge amount of information and the writing style is somewhat dry and academic. But Barnes makes plentiful use of passages from contemporary writers and these do lighten the tone somewhat.

The period covered extends from the first contacts with Chinese ideas in the thirteenth century to the middle of the nineteenth. This is divided into five sections: from first beginnings to 1491; 1492 to 1659; 1660 to 1736; 1737 to 1804; and 1805 to 1848. As the title indicates, Barnes is concerned both with Chinese medicine (herbalism and acupuncture) and, to some extent, with Chinese ideas of 'religion', although, as she points out, the concept of religion was unfamiliar to the Chinese before the arrival of Western missionaries. But Daoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism are not discussed in any detail, and are described only in so far as their ideas influenced medical thinking. [More]

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