I have been awfully quiet, but that usually means that I have been busy working on something. Last year, after I had recommended this book to several people, I found out it was out of print. Windstone Press offered to put this book back in print for several reasons. Because this is a Chinese medicine blog, let me try my best to stick to the topic and explain why I feel this book will greatly enhance knowledge among those of us in the Chinese medicine community.
The Development and Decline of Chinese Cosmology (DDCC) by Professor John Henderson is very broad, but amazingly thorough, in its coverage of this topic. Many books try to tackle a very long period of time and the results are often too superficial. But Henderson’s study manages to cover a period from the early Han all the way to the end of the Qing (nearly 2,000 years) without painting specific thinkers or even certain eras with a broad brush. This is a pretty rare accomplishment.
The reason I often recommend this book is because I regularly get Chinese medicine students who send me a thesis in the hopes that it can become a book. I use DDCC as an example of how a great piece of research can become a book. I urge people to look at how he uses sources, both in Chinese and English. This book is the best example I know of for showing people how to use evidence to make arguments free of agenda (something our profession greatly needs).
In my view, the Chinese medicine community needs to seriously consider critical views. We are often barraged with critical commentary from the Western medical community, making many of us cringe at the thought of criticism; thus, we ignore that many scholars in China, from the earliest periods, were also very critical of cosmology. These critiques cannot and should not be ignored. I firmly believe they add to a person’s knowledge of the medicine, even pushing one to think outside of the box, resulting in a much more refined practitioner. Classical criticisms are treasure troves of information about Chinese thought and understanding many different viewpoints can lead to a much broader view of the medicine.
Understanding how cosmology waxed and waned, developed and declined, and flourished until it didn’t is important. There is a pervasive myth today that cosmology was strong until the Cultural Revolution, which destroyed it. This is not only superficial but false. The cosmology of certain periods was vigorously questioned at a few important points in Chinese history, sometimes with a rehashing of more ancient ideas and sometimes with new ideas. Many great Chinese thinkers looked at the cosmology of their time with a critical eye resulting in ideas at least as brilliant as the ideas they were criticizing.
On a related note, DDCC is a great reference for many of the great thinkers throughout Chinese intellectual history. For those who are doing research in Chinese philosophy, history, anthropology, medicine, and virtual any field within Chinese studies, it is an indispensable reference. There are plenty of ideas here for research at any level-I used it to generate ideas for many papers and I have at least two friends whose PhD dissertations ideas were helped by referencing this book.
In short, I wanted this book back in print because I think it is important for anyone interested in the intellectual history of China, and that should include Chinese medicine practitioners. I believe the Chinese medicine community will benefit greatly by understanding how many of the related ideas, even the very basis of Chinese thought, developed and declined throughout Chinese history.