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Shipper's The Taoist Body Essay

808 words - 3 pages

The old addage that a picture is worth a thousand words is often
abused, but in certain disciplines it is an understatement. In
Traditional Chinese Medicine, pictures serve an important role.
Descriptions of abstract and physical ideas can be represented
concisely and systematically in certain pictures. This is especially
obvious in diagrams of the human body with the meridians or channels
superimposed. The channels are an abstract concept that has no direct
physiological analog, and the body is a physical object.

In Shipper's ``The Taoist Body'' he outlines how the Taoists viewed
the body as a country. One of Shipper's main assertions is that
Taoism viewed the body as a country in both literal and analogical
senses. One of the pieces of evidence that Shipper uses to demonstrate
his thesis is a painting of a man entitled ``An Immortal.''

Shipper asserts that contrary to textual clues, the painting is of Lao
Tzu because of other representations which bear significant
similarities. He also uses the stroke techniques of the artist to
support his claim of a literal connection to geographic places and the
body, stating that the strokes used are never used for painting
portraits, but for painting landscapes. Indeed, the strokes used
convey little information regarding the precise form of the body, but
seem to be only concerned with capturing the essence of the figure.

In the three footnotes referenced in Shipper's discussion, he adds
further credence to his man as mountain hypothesis. One references a
poem on the margin of the painting, which says that it is a drunken
immortal. From this Shipper concludes that it is a painting of Lao Tzu
from this evidence, in conjunction with stylistic similarities to
other portraits of Lao Tzu. In the second footnote he appeals to an
authority which stated that the brush strokes used on the portrait
are only found in landscapes. The third and final footnote bears the
most analysis of the image, stating that the head represents
simultaneously new and old, and the square cloak ``stands as wings''
providing lightness and massiveness at once. There are other
qualities of the picture which are missing from Shipper's brief
analysis of the picture.

The most obvious, which was also alluded to in his last footnote, is
the presence of yin-yang elements in the picture. An equal amount of
the figure is made up of dark and light elements with a significant
amount of gray in between. The bottom of the immortal's robes lies in
balance with the dark black cape which is very pronounced next to the

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