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Unformatted text preview: Circulation and Contagion: Narratives of Illness and Healing in the Chinese Body Politic In the opening scene of King Lear , the title character makes a gift of land and power —specifically an entire kingdom-- that are not rightfully his to give, thereby triggering a political and juridical crisis of monumental proportions. With this act of generosity, Lear in effect separates what is known in English jurisprudence as his “body politic” from his “body natural,” dividing what should rightfully have remained a unitary whole, and ultimately driving him to insanity. The tragedy of King Lear , in which the once-stately monarch is transformed into a homeless madman who converses with mice, revolves at least in part around the rightful relationship between the personal body (the “body natural”) and the collective body (the “body politic”). In this brief paper, I invoke the medieval concept of the “body politic” in order to compare and contrast the impact of narratives of illness and health in contemporary China as tools for social mobilization and political change. Building in part upon Benedict Anderson’s understanding of the nation as “an imagined political community,” I propose to compare state and folk narratives of two recent crises in public health—the so-called “qigong fever” that swept the country during and after the Tiananmen Square demonstrations of 1989, and the 2003 epidemic of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)—as highly public and quasi-official expressions of collective anxiety about the course of free market reforms in post-Mao China. While I make no claims concerning the state of the overall mental and spiritual health of the Chinese citizenry during the era of reform, I hope, in my brief discussion, to raise questions about the relationship between the “body natural” and the “body politic” as a reflection of evolving nature of public health in the PRC. Imagining the Body Politic When Queen Elizabeth sought legal advice concerning her right to lease a piece of land she claimed as private property, she called upon Edmund Plowden, a man described in the Annals of 1635 as “singularly well learned in the common laws of England… second to no man of his profession." After extensive deliberations, Plowden determined that a monarch could not own land in the manner of a common subject. Rather, Plowden proposed that the right to property claimed by the monarch’s “body natural” could not be transferred at death because the “body natural” was indivisible from the “body politic,”...
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This note was uploaded on 04/09/2008 for the course POLYSCI 255 taught by Professor Diamant during the Spring '08 term at Dickinson.
- Spring '08
- King Lear