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Hun and Po in Demonic Medicine Essay

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Updated: Nov 4th, 2020

Hunpo Repletion

The part that interested me the most in the lecture on demonic medicine was the existence of the possibility of hunpo repletion. Hunpo is considered vital energy. It is a very logical thing to conclude that its deficiency results in ailments, and its retrieval after the exorcising, an evil spirit, leads to health improvement. The adverse effect of overabundance, on the other hand, is far less intuitive. By simple observation, we can easily conclude that even today, people do not fully grasp the importance of a balanced intake of substances that are considered healthy (e.g., vitamins). Therefore, I believe that this concept of balancing the vital force (instead of simple retrieval) is a definitive feature of Chinese medicine and is likely traceable to the social and cultural environment.

What I found especially fascinating in the Concept of Ghost in Ancient Chinese Religion is the peculiar duality of hun and po. While both resemble spirit as it is defined nowadays, and hun eventually becomes synonymous with gui, which is much closer to the conscious malevolent ghost concept as it is perceived today, there is still a considerable difference between the two. While the former two are more accurately described as a spiritual essence, there is some evidence that “hun and po could also become licentious demons and haunt people” (Poo 182). Such implications point to the importance of hun and po both for humans and for ghosts and, in my opinion, indicate an attempt to intertwine the cosmological concepts into medicinal practice to identify the drivers behind what was then considered a random process.

Kui and Demonic Medicine

As a practitioner of demonic therapy, I would easily recognize the parents’ symptoms as a deficiency of hun and po in the body. In demonic medicine, both hun and po are considered “the essence the ghost needs” (Poo 182). Therefore, it would be logical to conclude that the child was assaulted by a ghost (gui), and part of hunpo has left the body. This partial absence was associated with anxiety, restlessness, and loss of sleep, among other symptoms, and would be consistent with the case. To treat the child’s condition, I would first choose a method of exorcising an evil spirit. For example, I could choose one of the non-verbal exorcism techniques known as Yu’s Steps, which combine magical and demonological elements. The ailment (in this case – the restlessness) can be “transferred to an intermediate object,” which then can be safely discarded (Unschuld 39). The most likely candidates for the exorcism would be hemp cloth and iron hammer. The process would be accompanied by spitting and spouting, which, as a part of breath magic, serves as a “stream of fire which communicates chanted incantations to the spiritual world” (Unschuld 38-39).

Once the gui is expelled, the hunpo is expected to gradually return to the body, facilitating health’s desirable state. However, it would next be necessary to ensure the treatment’s long-term effect by introducing the repelling effect. Two main approaches in demonic medicine provide the desired effect: talismans and fumigating substances. In this particular case, I would offer a talisman containing a symbol that signifies the command to the malevolent gui intertwined with the symbols describing the undesirable symptoms. The artifact is also required to contain a reference to the authoritative issuer, such as the god of thunder, renowned magicians, commanders of celestial armies, various stars, the sun, or the moon. The formulation of the desire for a quick resolution is optional. However, the concluding part emphasizing the necessity to obey the command is crucial. Finally, I would make sure that the entire inscription is done with a proper tool such as “a genuine cinnabar brush that had been removed from the desk of a secular administrative official” (Unschuld 40).

To ensure the efficiency of treatment, I would also use a substance believed to have a repelling effect on spirits, such as those that produce acrid fumes or have a penetrating odor. These substances are known to cause a certain amount of harm to humans or, in some instances, have a repelling effect on insects. Alternatively, I could use a plant or substance known to have certain medicinal properties and, for this reason, considered a capable weapon against demons. Finally, the appearance of some naturally occurring remedies, or even the particularities of their spelling, could give serve as clues for their demon-repelling properties. Specifically, I could prescribe to the child the intake of certain plant-derived resins, which, upon my understanding as a demonic therapy practitioner, would constitute the transfer of vital forces of a plant, concentrated in the resin, into the patient, where it would then assist in expelling the demon and provide vitality necessary for resisting future instances of possession.

Confucianism and the Medicine of Systematic Correspondence

Two areas can be identified where the influence of Confucianism on Chinese medicine is the most prominent. The first area deals with the preventive nature of the intervention as a preferred strategy. The principle is formulated as the responsibility of a ruler to ensure the state’s order before the indications of the insurrection. It is mirrored in the medicinal documentation as the necessity to treat not “those who have already fallen ill, but rather those who are not yet ill” (Unschuld 63). Such an approach can be viewed as an early instance of recognizing the practitioner’s responsibilities and is consistent with the corresponding social and political trends. The second area of influence deals with the gradual distancing from the supernatural explanations for diseases and other natural phenomena.

While at the time, there was no empirical evidence to the contrary, certain authors pointed to the inconsistencies between the spiritual practices and the absence of the intended effect in the majority of cases (Unschuld 65). Instead, the rituals and religious practices are considered ornamental and symbolic and acknowledged as such rather than dismissed. In addition to serving an example of the scientific approach, this area visibly corresponds to the orientation of Confucianism towards earthly social life as an area of interest. For this philosophical movement, the material world is sufficient to explain the fundamental principles of reality, and humans as social beings are capable of producing doctrines and laws necessary for social and political changes. Such an approach also emphasizes personal accountability and relies on moral education since, according to Confucius, “good conduct is its reward” (Hopfe and Woodward 189). By extension, the well-being of a patient, similarly to the social well-being of the subjects, depends entirely on the skill of the professional in charge (sage or a ruler).

The attitudes towards etiology in the late Zhou period saw respective changes. For instance, the etiology of wind saw an eventual change away from the reliance on demonic forces and towards a more grounded, natural perspective. There is a consistent flow of documented attempts to dispel the beliefs in supernatural causes of the ailments, with at least one essay that “rejects the view that demons might be a factor in one or another mysterious case” (Unschuld 71). Eventually, the wind becomes a term for identifying the conditions that were initially believed to be induced by it rather than an actual cause. In other words, the significance of wind as of a pathogenic agent is gradually declining in favor of a more comprehensive concept of the environmental influences that “affect the organism from outside but are present within the organism as well” (Unschuld 72). This concept, known as ch’i, became central to Chinese medicine.

Interestingly, it eventually resulted in the recovery of the wind as an important health influence. However, by this time, it was considered just one of many similar sources of influence (according to many sources, it was also the most powerful one). Therefore, the late Zhou period marked a gradual transition from the demon etiology towards wind etiology, which eventually lost its demonic status and retained influence. The latter gradually became dominant and determined the further development of Chinese cosmology. Interestingly, the earlier etiology was not eliminated since the concept of wind’s agency could be observed as one of the influences.

Works Cited

Hopfe, Lewis M., and Mark R. Woodward. Religions of the World. Pearson Education, 2008.

Poo, Mu-chou. “The Concept of Ghost in Ancient Chinese Religion.” Religion and Chinese Society, edited by John Lagerwey, Chinese University Press, 2004, pp. 173-191.

Unschuld, Paul Ulrich. Medicine in China: A History of Ideas. University of California Press, 1986.

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