Lecture Series

11 December 2021


Climate, Phenology, Syndromes: the Circle of Life


Lili Lai


Lili Lai shares with us how Chinese medicine forms a thriving holistic system from various dimensions of life, including the climate, phenology, and symptoms. Hou (候) indicates the appearance of heaven and earth’s movement and is the outward manifestation of the Tao (道). Specifically, the notion of "climate" integrates the natural laws of heavenly times and seasons, the “phenology” is the transforming characteristic of all things in response to the changing climate, and the “symptoms" reflect a specific phase in the development and evolution of a disease and the patient’s response to a particular internal and external environment within a particular time. From climate to phenology to symptoms, it is an interconnected whole. This notion and perspective are what Chinese medicine practitioners embody in their daily practices, and in her lecture, Lili Lai provides many examples of the practice of Chinese minority doctors interacting with natural herbs and patients.

This lecture also gives a profound understanding of "Five Movements and Six Qi" (五运六气). The "Five Movements and Six Qi," recorded as early as in the Inner Canon of the Yellow Emperor is a sophisticated theory that involves astronomical and climatic elements, and it is formed through a very long period on a basis of sixty years, which follows the idea of the shared cycles of Heaven and Earth, the human sphere, the planets and the seasons. If we were to analyze the Covid-19 outbreak in 2019 using the "Five Movements and Six Qi" notion, it is not difficult to find the influence of abnormal natural conditions on the emergence of infectious disease and its transmission.

Lili Lai, Ph.D., is a medical anthropologist. In 2009, she received her Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is currently an associate professor in the School of Health Humanities at Peking University. Her research interests include the body, medical practices, and everyday life. Through the lens of cultural anthropology, she examines cutting-edge medical technologies as well as the knowledge systems of traditional medicine (including traditional Chinese medicine and ethnic medicine), offering multiple interpretations and analyses of the basic concepts of medicine, the body, health, knowledge, and practice. She is the author of Hygiene, Sociality, and Culture in Contemporary Rural China (Amsterdam University Press, 2016) and Gathering Medicine: Nation and Knowledge in China’s Mountain South (Chicago University Press, 2021). She has published more than 30 papers in academic journals around the world.

About Lecture Series

The Lecture Series is an annual event revolved around a theme curated and presented by Media Lab, inviting scholars and artists from different fields to engage in a dialogue between art, technology, and philosophy to explore critical issues in media studies.