This week we sent Elisabeth Rochat de la Vallée’s remarkable work, “The Banner for a Chinese Lady Going to Paradise,” to production. It is a major contribution to the literature on Chinese philosophy and medicine. It also is an innovative eBook that uses the underlaying “epub encoding” to enhance readers’ ability to study the text and illustrations.
Elisabeth comments on the work:
In 1974, a short time after discovery of the Mawangdui Tombs in 1972, I was introduced to the Banner through a presentation made by Fr. Claude Larre during an International Symposium on relations between China and the West. He had understood the importance of this painting, not only from the archeological viewpoint, but also for the unique insight that it provides into China at the beginning of the second century BCE.
Through the use of symbols and mythic animals, the Banner reflects the beliefs of the Chinese people on how life appears, develops and disappears, as well as their hope to pass into the peace of Paradise. With splendid drawings and sumptuous colors, it offers anyone a direct grasp and a feeling for the emerging of life as a crossing of yin and yang, of its development as an ascension from the depth of the Earth to the everlasting serenity of Heaven.
The Banner is like a vivid illustration of what we read in the Chinese classics, a diving into the soul of ancient China. Reaching the depths of hope and beliefs of people living far away and long ago, we access what they have in common with us. The Banner speaks directly to us, not only of ancient China but of our present-day life and expectations.
These are the reasons why I fell in love with the Banner and accepted the challenge to present it to my readers.
Does the book tell you how to treat a dread disease? No.
Does it make the use of medicinals in formulas crystal clear? No.
Does it describe previously unknown distinctions between acupoints? No.
What then does it teach us, if not keys to treatment?
It teaches us the epistemological context in which thinkers of the era understood the medical classics at the root of Chinese medicine. This is one of the most important things we can know because how we interpret Chinese medical principles can only wander away from their origin if we have a false sense of the culture in which those ideas arose and flourished. Without the view this e-Learning gives us, we risk accepting ideas that would be impossible for the ancient scholars to have believed.
In this regard, one of the most interesting aspects of The Banner is the elaboration of yin / yang and the five phases in the cosmological symbols. In exactly the same way the qualities of the organs are complexes of yin and yang – yin within yang, yang within yin – the dragons portrayed on the banner are symbolic lessons in five phase and yin – yang distinctions, expressed as shapes, colors, contours and symbols. The Banner shows us a cosmos where the principles of systematic correspondence are the only principles, yin – yang is the only reality.
Elisabeth Rochat de la Vallée has given us a look inside the minds of humans who speak to us through the human arts of millennia past. This doesn’t happen very often.