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The Invention of MadnessState, Society, and the Insane in Modern China$
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Emily Baum

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780226580616

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2019

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226580753.001.0001

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Contracting the “Mad Illness”

Contracting the “Mad Illness”

(p.16) 1 Contracting the “Mad Illness”
The Invention of Madness

Emily Baum

University of Chicago Press

This chapter discusses how madness was understood and treated in late imperial China. Arguing that madness was considered a simultaneously biological, social, supernatural, and moral issue, it shows how the insane were cared for by a range of healers, including literati physicians, herbalists, shamans, and faith healers. The chapter begins with a discussion of Qing dynasty legal codes, which mandated that the insane be confined within the home. The remainder of the chapter explores different modes of understanding, explaining, and treating the mad condition during the late imperial period. Practitioners of Chinese medicine traced madness to biological, environmental, gendered, and emotional causes. Supernatural healers posited a relationship between madness, demonic possession, and the displeasure of deceased ancestors or gods. Finally, many families attributed the onset of madness to social causes, such as financial insecurity, heartbreak, or the pressure of preparing for the civil service examinations.

Keywords:   Chinese medicine, shamanism, faith healing, confinement, spirit possession, late imperial China

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