Historical Precedents e rst part of the book explores historical precedents of medical knowledge about human psychology in late imperial China. In the twentieth century, Sigmund Freud championed the idea that dreams provided ‘the “royal road” into the unconscious’.3 e systematic study of dream and dreaming has since taken on a prominent role in the human sciences. At the dawn of the twenty- rst century, psychiatrists have begun to promote a more collaborative framework that integrates neurobiological, cognitive scienti c and psychoanalytic approaches to the medical understanding of dreams.4 Given that such modern scienti c interest owes signi cant intellectual debt to Western psychodynamic ideas, what can be said of dreams in non-Western and pre-modern societies? To address this question from a Chinese historical perspective, Chapter One turns to a 1636 compendium, Meng lin xuan jie མ᷍⦺䀙 [An Explication of the Profundities in the Forest of Dreams; herea er Forest of Dreams], published in the late Ming dynasty (1368-1644). Brigid Vance argues that this 34-volume (1,278page) tome, though not a ‘psychiatric’ text in the strictest sense of the term, can nonetheless be considered as an encyclopaedia of dream-related knowledge that predated the introduction of Western psychoanalysis in early twentieth-century China.5 Indeed, Forest of Dreams not only catalogued nearly 5,000 dream-interpretation examples, it also o ered its readers practical solutions for self-healing. Focusing on ‘Dream Exorcism’ (མ), the second of the four sections of the compendium, Vance analyzes the various treatment methods covered in Forest of Dreams, which di ered in degree of complexity corresponding to the perceived degree of severity of the dreams and nightmares. e other sections are ‘Dream Prognostication’ (མখ), ‘Dream Origins’ (མ) and ‘Manifestation of Dreams’ (མᗫ). Presenting twenty ve images of talismans (three of which are reproduced in this book) and accompanying incantations and advice, ‘Dream Exorcism’, according to Vance, ‘provided the vocabulary and tools to educate readers on how to view and treat dreams and nightmares; moreover, it disciplined readers, not only o ering them a means to comprehend the world of dreams, but also the methods necessary to escape a world of nightmares’.6 e section begins with general advice on sleeping and dreaming proscriptions, for which even the timing of the manufacture of a certain kind of pillow was crucial and it ends with the social therapeutic functions of talismanic image-templates. erefore, while it might be inaccurate to approach Forest of Dreams as a pre-modern example of psychiatric knowledge about human dreaming behaviour, what the encyclopaedia ultimately resembles is a how-to medical text and a compilation of empirical knowledge on dreams. By establishing a sophisticated connection between the social sphere and the realm of human cognition, the compilers of this text drew on examples of social anxiety as experienced by emperors, civil service exam
candidates and even the authors themselves (who o en felt anxious about the political situation of their countries). Based on these examples, the system of meaning that developed around invisible desires, anxieties, fears and nightmares made Forest of Dreams a unique precedent in exploring the correlation between dreams and health in Chinese history.