Moral cultivation determines the therapeutic effect? On how the ancients in China recognized diseases from novels.

Recently, due to the outbreak of pneumonia in Covid-19, its virus source has been traced back to wild animals, so even the eating of game in A Dream of Red Mansions and the illness of the characters in the novel have attracted some people’s attention. Although scholars can’t see any connection between eating game and getting sick from combing the relevant contents of A Dream of Red Mansions, it also leads me to think about another more common problem of correlation.
In China’s ancient novels, the writing about people’s illness and treatment is often not a purely pathological or medical treatment problem, but inextricably intertwined with people’s moral cultivation.
As mentioned in the "Speech" in the early novel Shi Shuo Xin Yu, a child in the Western Jin Dynasty went out to ask for medicine because of his father’s malaria, and some people sarcastically said to his father, "How can such a noble gentleman ("Ming De gentleman ") suffer from such a bad disease? The child responded quickly and replied: it is specially designed to harm gentlemen, so it is called a bad disease! Although such an answer is quite witty and textbook-style, on closer examination, the child’s answer belongs to the concept of stealing and changing the identification of a gentleman into the identification of a disease. But the reason why the child had to steal the concept was because he couldn’t refute a social consensus at that time, that is, he thought that a gentleman could resist the attack of disease by virtue of his own moral cultivation.
With the thought of karma deeply rooted in people’s hearts, people in ancient times have become accustomed to thinking that personal moral losses will not only make diseases invade themselves, but also affect their children. Conversely, relying on people’s moral cultivation can also produce mysterious healing power for diseases. At that time, there was an article in the strange novel Xuan Yan Ji, which was quite representative. The novel writes:
The Zhou family has three sons, and they can’t speak. One day, someone came to beg for a drink, heard the voice of his son, asked him, and it was true. The guest said, "You have sinned, but you can still think about it." Zhou Yi’s words are very strange. For a long time, it is a cloud: "I don’t remember my sins." The guest said, "Try to think more about your childhood." When I entered the room, I ate my food, and when I went out, I said, "When I remember a child, when there is a swallow’s nest in the bed, there are three children in it, and the mother still feeds it, so I can eat it out and raise my hand under the house; Refers to the nest, the swallow also exports to bear. And take three thistles and swallow them each, both of which are dead. When the mother returns, she doesn’t see her son, she mourns and goes away, and she always regrets herself. " The guest turned into a Taoist, saying, "Since you know that you regret it, your sin is now removed!" I heard that his words were Zhou Zheng, that is, I did not see the Taoist.
Here, the description of the causes of Zhou’s three sons’ natural dumb diseases is completely the punishment of Zhou’s killing behavior in his childhood, and once Zhou has repented, the children’s diseases will be cured without medical treatment. Although religious moral principles play a dominant role in the novel, we can’t ignore the role of different levels of cognitive structure of different living beings. Because Swallow, Zhou’s family and Taoist belong to three different levels of the cognitive world, Zhou can easily fool Swallow into swallowing Tribulus, but he can’t understand why his three sons are dumb. Only when the Taoist priest above his cognitive level came to enlighten him did he raise his cognition to a new level and make him sincerely regret his past. That is to say, only when Zhou can realize the far-reaching consequences of his actions, the cognitive limitation of swallows is no longer a limitation for people, and people also raise their cognitive level to the height of people who are enlightened. The novel shows that the so-called differences in the cognitive level of the three levels essentially depend on the actions of people at the middle level, and the plot conflict developed from people’s cognitive conflict constitutes the moving power of art.
In this way, the novel suggests that the behavior of the characters in the novel has unpredictable consequences, which makes people feel moral awe of all things in nature, making this novel have extensive metaphorical value.
Of course, even if the value of this novel can be understood at the metaphorical level, we can’t ignore that there is a defect in the process of its plot development, that is, the natural mechanism of human life is basically ignored, and the disease problem is completely related to human religious morality, which shows that such an artistic vision, although it has a broader thinking beyond the role of life, is too simple and rough precisely because it overemphasizes the moral force and ignores the writing of the life mechanism itself.
In contrast, the writing about medical diseases in A Dream of Red Mansions is far more comprehensive and in-depth. On the one hand, of course, it is a million words long, which makes it possible to show the panoramic life of the characters; On the other hand, it is also the author who has a more dialectical understanding of the relationship between medical treatment and morality.
For example, at the beginning of the novel, it is said that Jia Rui died of illness, which is of course due to repeated teasing by Wang Xifeng, which leads to cold and illness, but it is also directly related to his own indiscretion and uncontrollable desire. In this sense, "Feng Yue Bao Jian" plays an admonishing role in the moral cultivation of the world. And then continue to write Qin Keqing, Qin Zhong’s untimely death, more or less also has this meaning, especially writing Qin Keqing and Jia Zhen’s behavior, suggesting that they may have moral incest, which was once a special topic in the study of Red Mansions. However, directly or indirectly implying the correlation between people’s moral cultivation and diseases is only one aspect of the writing of A Dream of Red Mansions and the author’s adaptation to traditional ideas. More importantly, the author deliberately cut this connection with another pen and ink.
The twenty-first time I wrote that Wang Xifeng’s daughter, eldest sister, had a very dangerous pox (smallpox). In addition to inviting doctors to stay at home day and night for nursing, medication conditioning and offering sacrifices to the acne queen at home, Xifeng also isolated her family and let Jia Lian move to the study room. This is of course because acne rash is highly contagious, and isolation from family members can effectively prevent infection. But the special function is that letting Jia Lian move out is still a moral requirement for the host and hostess, which is in harmony with the pious attitude of offering sacrifices to the acne queen at home. The problem is that in the next ten days, although Wang Xifeng did this, Jia Lian could not. He had an affair with the cook’s wife, many girls, which was obviously a more serious moral impurity according to the mainstream attitude of the society at that time.
Surprisingly, the novel goes on to say that Jia Lian’s immoral behavior doesn’t seem to offend the acne queen, let alone hinder the elder sister’s recovery. The treatment itself is the most effective. Although Jia Lian was not careful, he was hidden by Pinger, and did not let Xifeng find out, which finally made everyone get a satisfactory ending. Therefore, from the actual effect writing of this isolation, we find that the author’s "isolation" of moral influence is to isolate the influence that is thought to be ubiquitous in the traditional concept from the novel. But this isolation does not mean that the author totally denies the influence of morality or immorality on illness and treatment, otherwise he will not write so much about the death of Jia Rui, and he will not totally deny the positive effect of morality. But at least in the description of this incident, he denied the mysterious power of realizing morality by providence.
What needs to be added is that when the older sister who grew up later encountered difficulties in life, Grandma Liu did not hesitate to rescue her after learning about it. Because Wang Xifeng once rescued Granny Liu, a kind of moral behavior based on interpersonal communication finally had a feedback effect. This kind of resetting the mystery of moral cause and effect of heaven with human communication is one of the reasons why Cao Xueqin is better than traditional novelists.
(Zhan Dan is a professor at the School of Humanities, Shanghai Normal University)
Source: Wen Wei Po