“The Body is Governed by the Brain”: The Case of Ailou Brain Tonic and the New Concept of the Body in Late Ch’ing China


Chinese concepts of the body experienced tremendous change in the late nineteenth century.  After the introduction of the science of anatomy from the West, Chinese ideas of the brain, heart, blood, and kidneys were never the same.  Of those changes, the most stunning was a new idea of the function of the brain.  Rather insignificant in the past, the brain, along with the nervous system, replaced the heart as the center of the body and thus as the source of volition, will, and memory.  Though medical historians have done much to illuminate the impact of this transformation on intellectuals and physicians, little research has traced its impact on Chinese consumer culture and daily life.  This article examines this transformation from the perspective of the commercial world.  By analyzing the surge of Ailuo Brain Tonic and other brain-related stimulants in the late Qing, I argue that the medicine men selling and promoting brain tonics played an essential role in this transformation. The drugstores sold not only drugs but also the new concept of the brain.


  • Ning Jennifer Chang, Associate research fellow, Institute of Modern History, Academia Sinica (Taiwan)

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