9:45-10:00 Prof Jeremy Carrette (Dean for Europe, Kent) Welcome

10:00-10:50 Dr Leslie de Vries (Lecturer in East Asian Studies, Kent), “Poetry and formulas: A Vietnamese doctor’s strategy of therapy and well-being”

Chair: Richard King

In Account of a Travel to the Capital (Thượng Kinh ký sự, 1783), Lê Hữu Trác (1720-1791; aka Lãn Ông, “Mr. Lazy”), the most celebrated doctor in the Sino-Vietnamese medical tradition, reflects on his travel to and stay in the capital where he was summoned to treat the ailing Trịnh Crown Prince. This autobiographical masterpiece offers unique insights on daily life and the personal struggles of a doctor during the difficult political climate of late 18th century Vietnam.

In this talk, I will focus on two other genres of writing which we find throughout Lê Hữu Trác’s prose in Account of a Travel to the Capital: poetry and medical formulas. I will show how a poem and a formula play key roles in Lê Hữu Trác’s strategy of therapy and self-preservation. Whereas reading poetry resembles medical diagnostics, writing a poem has therapeutic effects. A formula – like a poem – may carry different layers of meaning. Through my analysis of Lê Hữu Trác’s poem and formula, I will further explore tensions between tradition and changing styles of practice in East Asian culture.

11:00-11:50 Prof Ann Heirman (Professor of Chinese Language and Culture and Buddhist Studies, Ghent), “Sport activities for Buddhist Monastics: beneficial to health, well-being and body? A vinaya perspective”

Chair: Jonathan Mair

Physical activities are part of daily life, and this has not remained unnoticed to early Buddhist disciplinary masters in India and China. In an attempt to protect the good reputation of the monastic community, their normative texts (vinaya) encourage monastics to control their body movements, and to strictly remain decent in all aspects, monastic clothes and shoes included. Still, body movement is not totally banned. On the contrary, walking is warmly welcomed for health reasons. It strengthens the body and the mind. This utilitarian aspect is not unimportant. It is even essential, even more so in China, where modern masters, of whom Xingyun (°1927) is a prime example, promote sport as an expedient means aiming at bringing people to Buddhism.

12:00-12:50 Dr Jonathan Mair (Senior Lecturer in Social Anthropology, Kent), “Renouncing with the body and renouncing with the mind: the role of the body in ethical self-cultivation in Fo Guang Shan, an international Chinese Buddhist movement”

Chair: Ann Heirman

Fo Guang Shan is based in Taiwan but is active around the world, including increasingly in mainland China. It teaches a modernised form of Buddhism it calls ‘Humanistic Buddhism’. Among other forms of self-cultivation, the movement teaches forms of comportment and gesture, including ‘walking like the wind’, ‘standing like a mountain’, ‘lying down like a bow’. This talk, based mainly on fieldwork in Taiwan and France for a recent research project on a week-long retreat that Fo Guang Shan runs for lay people, will explain these practices and the reasoning behind them.

Lunch break

14:00-14:50 Prof Andreas Niehaus (Professor of Japanese Language and Culture, Ghent), “Dietary Rules and Body Knowledge in Kaibara Ekiken’s Yôjôkun (1713)

Chair: Joy Zhang

In this talk, I will ask how day-to-day body techniques are connected to ideas of the body and analyze the mechanisms that bind performance, body, and ideology. My analysis will be based on the  Yōjōkun (養生訓, Rules for Life Cultivation, 1713); a text written by the Neo-Confucian thinker, physician, botanist, and educator Kaibara Ekiken (貝原益軒, 1630–1714). The Yōjōkun can be characterized as an educational manual, in the Chinese cultivation of life tradition (yangsheng 養生), which guides the reader to a healthy life, based on a set of dietetic rules; dietetics in the sense of “an intimate combination of health, medicine, and philosophy of living.” (Coveney 2006: 26). The author of the text elucidates the moral principles of health preservation, touching on diverse topics, which include eating and drinking, sexuality, sleep, hygiene, and physical exercise. I will argue that the Yōjōkun not only creates knowledge about the body and the way it functions, but that it represents, reproduces, and disseminates a hegemonic idea of the healthy and moral Edo body.​

15:00-15:50 Dr Joy Zhang (Senior Lecturer in Sociology, Kent), “How to Be Modern: China’s Search for ‘Good Food’”

Chair: Andreas Niehaus

With the world’s largest population to feed, modernising the food system has always been a paramount socio-political concern in China.  Yet recent fieldwork in 3 Chinese cities suggests that there are two conflicting views on what a ‘modern’ agriculture should look like. For the government, modernisation implies a rational calculation of scale and a mirroring of global trends. Thus, good food production necessitates an integration of funding, standardisation, and a scaling-up of the industrial chain. But an alternative interpretation of modernity, promoted by civil society, has been gaining ground. For this camp, modernisation is about channeling global resources to empower and motivate individuals. Good food production is then established through a ‘rhizomic’ spread of new practices, which are inspired by world possibilities but are deeply rooted in the local context.

Based on 14 interviews and five focus groups, this paper investigates the ongoing social negotiation of ‘good food’ in China. It demonstrates how a non-Western society responds to the twin processes of modernisation and globalisation and provides insights on the varieties of modernity in the making.

Coffee Break

16:30-17:20 Prof Richard King (Professor of Buddhist and Asian Studies, Kent), “From Ancient Sati to Modern Mindfulness: A Brief Comparison”

Chair: Leslie de Vries

This presentation explores the role of intellectual analysis and ethical judgement in ancient South Asian Buddhist accounts of sati and contemporary discourses about “mindfulness”. Attention is paid to the role of paññā (Sanskrit: prajñā: ‘wisdom’ or ‘analytical insight’) and ethical reflection in the cultivation of sati in mainstream Abhidharma and early Mahāyāna philosophical discussions in India, noting the existence of a subordinate strand of Buddhist thought which focuses upon the non-conceptuality of final awakening (bodhi) and the quiescence of mind. It is argued that a major fault-line between divergent contemporary accounts of mindfulness can be seen most clearly over the issue of the role of ethical judgements and mental ratiocination within mindfulness practice. The two most extreme versions on this spectrum see mindfulness on the one hand as a secular mental technology for calming the mind and reducing stress and discomfort, and on the other as a deeply ethical and experiential realisation of the geopolitics of human experience. These, it is suggested, constitute an emerging discursive split in accounts of mindfulness reflective of divergent responses to the social, economic, political and technological changes occurring in relation to the global spread of neoliberal forms of capitalism.​

17:30-18:00 Dr Ward Blanton (Reader in Biblical Cultures and European Thought, Kent) Wrap-up session