Excreted and Left Untreated? Human and Animal Waste: from Dunhuang to Laozi

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jats:titleAbstract</jats:title> jats:pTexts from pre-imperial and early imperial China are replete with dietary information, regimens for nourishing the body and instructions on how not to soil its inner purity. Sources have far less to say about the body’s effluvia and the waste and muck that is shed and excreted by human and non-human animals. This article studies references to excreta and excretion in early China. It shows how human and animal faeces as well as the locus of excretion connoted both negative and positive spheres. Excreta were deemed noxious yet also beneficial, they were to be discarded yet also reused. Latrines were liminal zones, operating at the intersection of social propriety and physical and moral rejection. The process of excretion made the body vulnerable to external influences such as demonic illness, yet faecal matter of itself also had medicinal healing powers. In agriculture, matter exuded was matter used to fecundate and fertilize crops. The waste and human nightsoil that accumulated in the concealed domestic space of the latrine and pigpen ended up as sought-after produce infusing life into seeds, fields, and public productivity. By bringing together evidence across a range of textual and material sources – from latrines, to pigs, to a line in the jats:italicLaozi</jats:italic> 老子 and its commentaries – this article traces excretory experience and matter through its cycle from defecation to regeneration.</jats:p>

50 Philosophy and Religious Studies, 5002 History and Philosophy Of Specific Fields
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East Asian Science, Technology, and Medicine
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