Melancholic Humours: Conceptions of Energy Flow and Constraint in Chinese and Western Medicine

A common theme in modern discussions of Chinese medicine is its success in maintaining a more process‑oriented view of the body, characterised by concepts of energy, flow and the integration of body and mind. This framework is usually contrasted with modern Western medical models, and some authors would go so far as to say that the two systems are incommensurable, and cannot be reconciled in theory or practice. Yet early Western notions of the body, based as they were on metaphors of humoural energy and flow, feature an emphasis on the primacy of subjective perception of energy that characterises Chinese medical accounts. This paper examines the common conceptual metaphors that structure Chinese accounts of Liver qi depression and Western accounts of melancholy, and argues that an analysis of conceptual metaphor can provide a deeper perspective on the meaning of embodied experience in health and illness.

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