China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
Huangfu Mi is best known as an early physician and author of theSystematic Classic of Acupuncture (Jia yi jing). Living under the regime of the Cao Wei (220–65) and finally witnessing the reunification by the Western Jin in 280, he was a prolific scholar of his time—“a third-century Confucian,” according to Keith Knapp. Although illness is a prevalent topic in his writings, not the least because of his own ill health, a comprehensive inquiry into this topic is still missing. In this talk, I focus on Huangfu Mi’s presentation of his illness as a key issue of his self-perception and public persona. A close reading of his death-bed instruction and several of his essays will demonstrate ambiguities in Huangfu Mi’s self-portrayal as a sick man. His references to worthy ill men of the past reveal the wish to legitimize his withdrawal. Dominique Declercq termed Huangfu Mi’s hypothetical discourse (shelun) justifying his refusal to take office “a deep-seated ailment.” Whereas Huangfu Mi’s writing of the sick self can be deconstructed as a strategy to style himself as a “high-minded gentleman,” similar to those exemplary recluses he portrayed in his Biographies of High-minded Gentlemen (Gaozhi zhuan), narratives about his unsuccessful self-treatment transmit individual experiences with sickness beyond his political rhetoric about illness.