Dialogue to the Future: Interviews with a New Generation of Researchers in the AJI

Second Interviews

Interview with Dr. XIANG, Jingjing

future_02_header  Tracing the path of the history of medical exchange between Japan and China: Studying the “circulation” of medical books

Interviewer: You are specialized in the history of medical thought, particularly the history of medical exchanges between Japan and China. Could you tell me what led you to decide on this topic for your research?

Dr. Xiang: I was born into a family of Chinese medical doctors. On my father’s bookshelf, there were many classic books on Chinese medicine written in early-modern Japan, and he highly praised the research of the medical books by Japanese researchers. In the history of medicine, this is called the “circulation” of medical books.
Ever since I was a child, I have been familiar with this “circulation” and was deeply fascinated by it. It became the motivation for pursuing my research of it.

Interviewer: So, you have been interested in medicine since you were a child!

Dr. Xiang: Yes, I have. Additionally, I’m also interested in the connection between contemporary people like ourselves and those in the past. We’re familiar with modern medicine such as anatomy and X-ray examinations, which are now taken for granted, but we didn’t have them in the past. I was interested in how pre-modern doctors understood the human body and disease and it also led me to research a medical history.

Interviewer: When you went back to China for research last spring, you experienced quarantine at a hotel for weeks to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. It is also a very modern medical situation.

Dr. Xiang: Even in the Edo period, isolation was also practiced when an infectious disease had been spread. Historical materials described that there was a policy which forced families to abandon a family member with smallpox in remote mountains and fields and many of them died after around 100 days from lack of adequate treatment. Through my isolation at a hotel, I felt that the historical materials I had read so far are not just about the past, but also have something in common with the present. In addition, I gained another perspective on the disease and the social problems it brings through my experiences in China.

Interviewer: I see, so long-term isolation was extremely inconvenient, but as a researcher of medical history, it was a meaningful experience for you. Please tell us a little more about what led you to become a researcher.

Dr. Xiang: One of the doctors my father admires is Yushoshi Kitayama(北山友松子), a doctor who practiced in Osaka during Edo period. His father was a Chinese who came to Japan to avoid the upheaval at the end of the Ming dynasty, and his mother was a prostitute from Nagasaki Maruyama. Since I became interested in him, I researched his background. That was how I began my research into a history of medical exchanges between Japan and China in earnest.

Interviewer: How is your research life in Japan? Could you tell us about your experiences of studying in Japan?

Dr. Xiang: Japan has four distinct seasons, and as the seasons change, I feel more pressure on my research. Especially, when I see autumn leaves and red berries, I reflect on how far my research has progressed this year. So, I always study harder with feeling urgency when it comes to autumn.
To tell the truth, why I chose to study in Kyoto was because I was captivated by the scenery of autumn in Kyoto. When I was in China, I was attracted to a picture of autumn leaves in Kyoto and I decided to study there. However, I was so busy with my studies that I was only able to enjoy autumn-leaf viewing in the fall of my third year in Japan.

Interviewer: You also wrote your doctoral dissertation in Japanese. When did you start studying Japanese?

Dr. Xiang: I started studying Japanese when I was an undergraduate student. Chinese undergraduate students who study foreign languages have a custom of getting up early in the morning and reading aloud on campus, which is called “Reading-in-the-Early-Morning(早読)” in Chinese. Ever since I was a freshman, I had been doing “Reading-in-the-Early-Morning” from 7:00am to 8:00am every morning, and I memorized all the words and sentences in the textbook. But honorific expressions in formal Japanese are very difficult to use, so I still haven’t mastered them fully no matter how much I memorized them.

Interviewer: Could you tell us about the differences between Chinese and Japanese languages from your experience?

Dr. Xiang: They are big differences. Even when using the same Chinese letters (Kanji), there are many cases where the meaning and grammar are completely different. The moment when I feel the different between them the most is when I write papers. In Japanese, you often use the passive such as “to be considered”, “to be said”, or “to be”. On the other hand, you don’t use the passive when you write papers in Chinese. I think the passive is also frequently used in daily conversations among Japanese people and statements made by politicians.

Interviewer: Could you tell us about your recent research topic?

Dr. Xiang: I am researching how the medical book ”Shang han lun (傷寒論)” written by Zhang Zhongjing(張仲景), a doctor of the later Han dynasty, was interpreted, accepted, and circulated in early-modern and modern East Asia.
The “Shang han lun” is closely related to Japan. Tsumura, which is a Kampo-based pharmaceutical company in Japan, formulates many of its products, including Kakkonto, according to the book. Even if you don’t know the name of the book, you probably know Kakkonto which was formulated according to it.

Interviewer: What do you most enjoy about research?

Dr. Xiang: When the corona virus began to spread, discrimination against infected people and hoaxes about illness also spread, and I realized that this was no different from what was described in the historical materials I read every day. I was shocked that no matter how much science advances, people’s reactions to infectious diseases are the same as they were 400 years ago. At the same time, I came to be even more interested in researching the history of epidemics.

Interviewer: What kind of plans for the future do you have in mind now?

Dr. Xiang: First, I would like to publish my doctoral dissertation in Japan. Currently I’m preparing for that. I didn’t expect my first book to be published in Japanese, but I wrote my doctoral dissertation in Japanese, so I would like Japanese readers to read it first. Someday, I would like to publish a book in Chinese too.
In the future, I would like to become a professor at a university in Japan or China, and advance my research. I would also like to promote academic exchanges between Japan and China to build a bridge of friendship between two countries.

Interviewer: I am very much looking forward to reading your book next year. Please keep up the great work!

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