Research Project


Childbirth and the Arts of Judgement in Medieval Japan

Dr. Anna Andreeva

My project investigates the impact of Indian, Buddhist, and Chinese concepts, theories, and practices on the formation of knowledge about women's bodies and women's health in medieval Japan. Examining Buddhist manuscripts, medical treatises, court protocols, and personal diaries, ranging between the 9th and 16th centuries, this project aims to produce a cultural history of childbirth in Japan, but also to cast new light on the histories of knowledge, medicine, and gender in premodern East Asia. Although it is currently limited to investigating mostly elite households, this project traces the emergence and development of various forms of expertise that was practiced by the distinct groups of people closely involved in maintaining noble women's well-being during their pregnancies and labour: the Buddhist scholar-monks and high-ranking clergy, the yin-yang diviners, physicians, midwives and female assistants, as well as male and female relatives from the parturient woman's family. During the uncertain time of pregnancy and labour, all of them had to practice certain arts of judgment in order to prepare for and avoid various risks. Starting with the yin-yang diviners, the project will investigate how and to what extent the "transculturation" of concepts (i.e. their subtle adaptation, change, and re-configuration or rejection during the historic processes of knowledge transmission from India and China via Korea to Japan) made an impact on the understanding of women's bodies and the origins of life in medieval Japan.

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