Modernized Healing and Unhealed Modernity: Reflections on North Korean Cinematography, Chinese Women Physicians, and Chinese Buddhist-Confucian Cultivation Practices in the 20th Century

Title: 1369 | Modernized Healing and Unhealed Modernity: Reflections on North Korean Cinematography, Chinese Women Physicians, and Chinese Buddhist-Confucian Cultivation Practices in the 20th Century
Area: Border Crossing and Inter-Area
Stream: Women’s Studies
Presentation Type: Panel Presentation
Xiaoqian Song, Independent Scholar, China (organizer, presenter)
Yan Guo, National Cheng Chi University, Taiwan (presenter)
Stefan Kukowka, National Cheng Chi University, Taiwan (presenter)
Xingxing Wang, Waseda University, Japan (chair)


The transformation of ideas and practices of healing is viewed as a reflection of modernization in East Asia, where "healers" appeared as a modernized, westernized, and progressive image in the early 20th century. Professionalization of healers and healing techniques then grew to be a symbol of modernity in conventional narratives. However, such transformation not only mirrored and paralleled modernization, but also entangled with "the modern" with its own language, knowledge, and politics. Our researches pay particular attention to often marginalized healers in diverse East Asian contexts: from the female doctor role Moon Ye-bong 文藝峰 (1917-1999) played in the 1960s North Korean cinema, to the first generations of female doctors practicing Western medicine introduced by the Christian missions in the late 19th and early 20th century China, to masters of Pure Land Buddhism of the 20th century, Yinguang 印光 (1861-1940) and Jingkong 淨空 (1927-). Song Xiaoqian explains how Moon's doctor image represented the imagined continuity of modernization and participated in inventing the orthodoxy of a newborn history in North Korea. Guo Yan argues that the emerging female medical elite in the late 19th and early 20th century China adopted celibacy to negotiate gender norms (re)constructed by the ideology of domesticity, the rise of Chinese nationalism, the limited contraceptive technologies, and the institutional restrictions in women’s medical education. Stefan Kukowka argues that the ‘path of easy practice’–as Pure Land is often depicted–in fact, presupposes a range of conditions that the practitioner needs to meet before any cure may be achieved. All the practices discussed above reflect the complex interconnectedness between healing and modernity in the context of East Asian histories.

Panel Abstracts:
From New Woman and to Revolutionary Mother: A "Female Doctor" in the 1960s North Korean Cinema
This study focuses on a special image of "female doctor" in the context of North Korean cinema. Actress Moon Ye-bong (文藝峰, 1917–1999) was the first Korean woman to speak in the first Korean sound film and established her stardom in the mid-1930s. After WWII, she chose her path to Pyongyang and became a pillar of the emerging North Korean film industry. Moon was briefly absent from the screen during Kim Jong-il’s path to succession in the 1970s. On the Road of Growth (1964/1965) is her last film produced before her exile, as well as young leader Kim's debut film to practice his political concepts. Though it is a North Korean film, the story happens in the South. Moon appears as the female protagonist's mother, a doctor who received her training of western medicine in the colonial period and lives in 1960s Seoul. She is first against her daughter's relationship with a young revolutionist but finally reeducated by the revolutionist to be a revolutionary mother supporting and healing the new generation. This female doctor as a first-generation New Woman recalls the memory of nostalgic lifestyle of Colonial Korea, fulfills the imaginations of continuous history and modernization. By reexamining the hidden history of the female doctor who is used in inventing new orthodoxy of North Korea with her own legacies, this study attempts to discover the vanishing shadows of the past in the centrality of women's life in Korea and bridge fractures in the conventional chronology of the twentieth century.

Unmarried Obstetricians and Gynaecologists: The Adoption of Celibacy Among the Emerging Female Medical Elite in the Late 19th and Early 20th Century China
This article studies the adoption of celibacy among the first generations of women physicians in the late 19th and early 20th century China. Modern Western medicine was introduced into China during the 19th century through hospitals and medical schools established by the Christian missions. Either the Reform Movement of 1898 or the Protestant missions advocated an ideology of domesticity, leading to a renewed gender norm of ‘dutiful wife and good mother’ (xianqi liangmu 賢妻良母): women were expected to be equipped with basic education and reproductive health, so as to become qualified ‘mothers of citizens’ devoted to ‘strengthening the nation and race’ (baoguo baozhong 保國保種). Meanwhile, given the limited contraceptive technologies in the early 20th century, marriage brought women constant pregnancy, followed by dangerous childbirths and domestic drudgery. Partially due to Chinese women’s concerns over modesty, some Western medical missionary women found in China professional opportunities even not open to them in the West and remained single during their missionary practice. Influenced by Anarcha-Feminism, some Chinese women chose to remain single, and attempted to enter the public sphere and pursue their own careers. Institutional restrictions contributed to the adoption of celibacy as well: some women’s medical schools refused to admit engaged women or ruled to dismiss a student who got married. By analyzing the structural causes and social conditions of their adoption of celibacy, I argue that the emerging female medical elite in the late 19th and early 20th century China practiced alternative femininity and gender subjectivity.

A Universal Healing Technique for Body and Mind: Invocation of Amitābha as Means to Transform Karma and Fate
Depicted as the ‘path of easy practice’ (yixingdao 易行道) and reliance on the ‘other power’ (tali 他力) of Amitābha as an answer to the conditions of the ‘period of the final dharma’, advocates of Pure Land Tradition, such as the thirteenth Patriarch Ven. Yinguang (1861-1940) and his later intellectual disciple Ven. Jingkong (1927-) encourage lay followers to practice the ‘invocation of Amitābha’ (nianfo 念佛) as means to cure illnesses related to body and mind, for it removes karmic hindrances that are the reason of constant rebirth in saṃsāra leading to suffering in general and to physical illnesses of sentient beings specifically. Both monastics identify nianfo as an essential practice for healing to extricate oneself from saṃsāra (in a transcendent reading) and to cure illnesses in saṃsāra (in a mundane reading). Jingkong, however, adds another aspect to this practice by emphasising correct conduct and rectification of the mind to remove delusions that shroud the mind and cultivate goodness, thus pointing to needed efforts on the side of the practitioner in conjunction with Amitābha’s powers. This article examines several facets of the relationship between physical and mental illnesses and the practice of nianfo to remove the karmic causes of illnesses in context of Yinguang and Jingkong’s works, providing examples of miraculous stories that are used to buttress its efficacy. I argue that the ‘path of easy practice’ includes a range of conditions that the practitioner needs to meet before any cure may be achieved

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