Women Doctors in Chinese History

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This a quick list of resource links and quotations excerpted from books that touch on the topic:

Specialization may have occurred early. While physicians and apothecaries were separate for a long time, they were both regarded as healers. In the Chou dynasty there were nine specialties, and they grew to thirteen by the Mongol period, early in the fourteenth century. The subdivisions became even more complex, with doctors for the great blood vessels, small vessels, fevers, smallpox, eyes, skin, bones, larynx, and mouth and teeth. There were also gynecologists, pediatricians, and pulsologists for internal diseases, external medicine, the nose and throat, and for children’s illnesses. Some healers specialized in moxibustion, acupuncture, or massage. Even the experts in incantation and dietetics were considered medical specialists and were often held in higher regard than other doctors; surgeons were generally of low rank. Furthermore, each of the practitioners in each category had assistants and students—all of whom had to qualify by examination.

Obstetrics was in the hands of midwives for many centuries; it is not known when the first women doctors were in practice. One female physician is mentioned by name in documents from the Han dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D. 220), but women may have been doctors at an earlier date. By the fourteenth century women were officially recognized as physicians. <>

Also about Tan Yunxian


Chinese Physician: Wang Ji and the Stone Mountain Medical Case Histories
By Joanna Grant

Footnotes state that women would initially seek out services of female healers.  Also, same stated in a Ming dynasty novel, click here
p. 107

” . . . women preferred to see female healers, and only went to elite male healers as a last resort, when other treatments had failed. There is evidence from contemporaneous sources, both historical and literary, to substantiate this explanation, although there is no mention of female healers in the Shishan yi’an itself.  Interestingly, parallels can be found in the Greek medical tradition.”

A study comparing the treatments of women in a Greek compendium of case histories, with one from China, finds the following:

“Drawing a parallel with the Greek tradition, which similarly gave prominence to Blood and menstruation in medical understandings of the female body, a study of case histories in the Epidemics found that those relating to women were almost exclusively gynaecological in nature.  The figures form the Shishan yi’an, then, do at least indicate that, unlike the situation in classical Greece, the medical perception of women in Ming China was not necessary constrained by the conviction that reproduction was central to female health.  As women with gynaecological complaints constitute only a third of women seen by Wang Ji, an analysis which focuses on the full range of disorders suuffered by women and not just on reproductive complaints, and which compares and contrasts differences resulting from reproductive status, is integral to the construction of a more complete understanding of the complex interactions between women, society and medicine.”