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on August 1, 2003
An important scholarly review of a milestone medical classic, Professor Unschuld is his usual through self in presenting this material with copious references to support his conclusions. The acutal translation of the Su Wen is to follow in three volumes, this book reviews sources and cultural influences that helped shape the Su Wen. Considering the complex nature of the material in that work, this book is invaluable to the understanding of the Su Wen itself.
While not a book for the general public looking for lay information on Chinese medicine, this is a must read for those interested in the history of medicine, Chinese culture, and the influence prevailing cultural paradigms can have on even medical thought. Students and practitioners of Chinese medicine should also find this book valuable as there is so little documented information on the roots of this rapidly growing healing tradition.
I would also like to add that I do not believe Unschuld set out to do a hatchet job on holistic concepts as one reviewer seemed to think. I am a supporter of such concepts and do not always agree with everything Unschuld concludes. I feel however, that although one may disagree with some of his conclusions, one cannot argue with the scholarly rigor with which he supports those conclusions. This is a great book for the right audiance and will undoubtedly stand as a valuable reference for years to come.
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on July 14, 2003
Mr. Iannone is free to dislike any book or any author, and to say so. However, his review so misrepresents the "Huang Di Nei Jing Su Wen: Nature, Knowledge, Imagery in an Ancient Chinese Medical Text" that it demands a response. Mr. Iannone's description of this excellent text is so far from the facts and purposes of the text that readers who had not seen the text could not know its content, or understand its intent. We learn what Mr. Iannone thinks but nearly nothing of the book itself.
It is critical to note that Dr. Unschuld scoffs at nothing. Dr. Unschuld apparently fails to treat the theme of "holistic" Chinese medicine with the hands-off reverence Mr. Iannone apparently demands. But this is Mr. Iannone's ax to grind and scoffing at holism is neither Dr. Unchuld's theme nor a fair description of the text. Chinese medicine evolved to serve the universal desire for a long and happy life not to answer the fragmentation of modern life the philosophy of holism attempts to address. To accuse Dr. Unschuld of scoffing at his sources is no different than accusing the ancient Chinese of failing to satisfy the needs of a time and place they could not have imagined. Not only were the social and philosophical milieu to which holism responds two millenia in the future but China in the era of the "Huang Di Nei Jing" had its own philosophies and these, Taoism, Confucianism, and Legalism, are the philosophical currents Dr. Unschuld's research considers, not because he scoffs at holism, but because these were the concerns of the culture from which the "Huang Di Nei Jing" derives.
While Mr. Iannone clearly feels that some darling of his own desire has been abused, that is again Mr. Iannone's response, not a description of the text. Indeed, perhaps the most considerable disservice in Mr. Iannone's review is the impression it gives readers that Dr. Unschuld's "Huang Di Nei Jing" is merely an opinion piece, not more than a viewpoint. It is not. It is the result of the largest East-West scholarly enterprise ever undertaken; it is the result of the largest collection of artifacts and textual references ever assembled in regard to a seminal Chinese text. It is the result of expertise drawn from many sources, many scholars and disciplines. The text does indeed point-out contradictions within the corpus of the surviving text but these are described as windows into the creation of an as-yet unfinished human enterprise, not the debunking of a philosophy of the distant future.
The "full text" (as if ancient documents were books to be pulled from a shelf) is not present, not as Mr. Iannone implies, to hide some holistic gem, but because this is the introductory volume, the preface if you will, of a multi-volume series that will include, not only textual sources but concordances, indexes and further commentaries. What the review hides from the reader is that direct quotations of the sources are plentiful, well-referenced and perfectly directed to the themes discussed.
What the "Huang Di Nei Jing Su Wen: Nature, Knowledge, Imagery in an Ancient Chinese Medical Text" accomplishes is an overview of what has been revealed by a vast research into the extant sources. It is not a text for everyone; it is certainly not a text for someone hoping to resolve the contradictions and difficulties of life in technological societies. It is however an ideal book for those who would look at Chinese medicine through its sources. For those who want to see the roots of
today's Chinese medicine rich with the patina of an ancient time and uncensored by modern fashion and commercial expectation.
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on August 7, 2003
Unschuld is thorough and thought-provoking. I will read the Suwen a little differently now, after reading Unschuld's book.
I don't agree with every conclusion the author makes, but I love mulling over the issues he brings up.
Yes, this book is scholarly, and you may need a dictionary here and there. But is that a bad thing?
It is not for someone who just wants to practice in blissful ignorance. It is not for a beginning student. It is not for someone who wants to mystify Chinese medicine.
It is for those who want to find deeper ways of looking at our medicine, and for those who like a little challenge to their own way of thinking. I will happily pre-order any book Unschuld writes.
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on March 12, 2006
This book is a milestone for those of us who wish to understand Chinese medicine. If every would read this book along with Goodman's Classical Chinese Medical Texts: Learning to Read the Classics of Chinese Medicine (Vol. I) and Medicine in China: A History of Ideas (Comparative Studies of Health Systems & Medical Care), also by Unschuld, then our profession would progress much more rapidly.
As others have noted, this is not a translation of the Su Wen, but a thorough commentary. It could also be titled "Everything You Could Possibly Want to Know About the Su Wen." Unschuld is an expert in this field and I'm not sure what a previous reviewer meant by self appointed. I think his experience, education, previous works, and position as director of his academic department speak for themselves!
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on May 6, 2003
While not a straight translation of the Su Wen, Unschuld gives us expert insight into the language and development of this seminal classical text. His commentaries discuss the fundamental ideas of the Su Wen and their historical contexts. It is essential reading for every practitioner.
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on October 3, 2003
Robert Feld is welcome to embrace Unschuld's highly scholarly, hard to read, disjointed text. My primary point is that this is NOT the Nei Jing, it is not the text, it is not readable as such, and it is not a guide for would-be doctors interested in practicing based on Nei Jing. That much should be more clear in the description of the book, but it is not. It should be called "Essays on Nei Jing."

As for feeling buised over a lack of 'modern' solutions, something I never mentioned, or an under-esteemed 'holism'--the main point is that the original holistic theory is obscured behind the great many errors in the Nei Jing.

This is in fact a late stage text, not a nacent one, the assumptions of scholars aside. References to Mawangdui texts as the beginning are themselves fallacious. The origin of the system, and its holism, are deeper, older, and not contradictory like the Nei Jing essays. They reflect a holistic system of knowledge heavily obscured in the late-stage texts we (and all of Chinese history) received.

So, the 'scoffing.' Those who find Unschuld's tone abrasive, and we are many, will use this term to refer to the haughty modern scholarly quality that exudes from the pages; the debunker's knife, if you will. Though modern knowledge advances through dividing and studying the parts, there are other methods of studying nature, and certainly these ideas were not fabricated in a modern-worldview workshop. They were not put together in pieces, and animated by the fuel of superstition, as Unschuld often makes it seem.

I look forward to Unschuld's further works, including the forthcoming full translation of the text, and any ideas he has about the relative age of the various essays. Following a path of 'dividing instead of lumping,' they are not that dear to my heart, just to my mind. But what else are scholars to do? The elephant is not known to those who feel a wall under their hand.
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on May 10, 2003
This is not a book to read if one wants to learn or understand the roots of Chinese medicine, but it is excellent if one is researching the many ways in which scholars can scoff at ancient thought.
If you are thick-enough skinned through broad study to withstand his caustic, debunker's conclusions, it is a very worthwhile book to have--if for no other reason than for the appended material on the seven or eight chapters added hundreds of years later to the Han-era Su Wen--from which have been derived a range of complex chronological acupuncture applications of curiosity to some.
Like his earlier Nan Jing translation, this is a scholarly work that is thick as paste at catching the holistic argument for the theory. In that book, Unschuld was comprehensive but maddeningly inconclusive--damning through a show of the controversies about interpretation over the centuries--while notably not supplying the relevant chronological data (there is some information in the preface). In this text, Su Wen, he damns through a show of contradictions in the text itself, prefering the view that there is after all no 'right' answer, since this is primitive sympathetic magic and little more. This latest work reeks with the haughtiness and grandeur of 'real' medical knowledge.
Unlike Unschuld's Nan Jing, his Su Wen is not at all 'readable' as such...it is a collection of essays on issues. The full text or anything like it is NOT present, though there are copious quotations used throughout to demonstrate contradictions, in order to show the developmental confusion of the authors. These confusions are certainly there: but Unschuld is certain in his view that they are nacent--that the theory is not much older than the Su Wen itself.
Three stars, because if you need it, you can bear with it, but if you are looking for something else, this ain't it!
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