International Centre for Chinese Heritage and Archaeology


LOOMS OF LIFE - weaving and knowledge production in ancient China

6 March 2017

An international conference on the amazing 2nd-century BCE Laoguanshan 老官山 tomb finds, jointly convened by 

UCL China Centre for Health and Humanity and ICCHA (International Centre for Chinese Heritage and Archaeology). Time: 30 March 2017. Place: IAS Common Ground, South Wing, Wilkins Building.

Convenors: Vivienne Lo (CCHH) and Zhuang Yijie 庄奕杰 (ICCA, UCL Archaeology)


This will be the first conference outside China to showcase the texts and artefacts from the Laoguanshan tomb site (excavated in 2012-13 at Tianhui 天回 in the suburbs of Chengdu, Sichuan), which are set to revolutionise the history of science, technology and medicine.

The  Laoguanshan tomb finds include 900 bamboo strips dedicated to remedy collections and new medical theories, a set of China's earliest looms, and a medical figurine. This enormous quantity of ancient source material - unrivalled in, for example, ancient Greece - prompts us to rethink the nature of innovation in the ancient world, and will help us to challenge the eurocentric bias of global histories of 'civilisation'.

As yet, the figurine and manuscripts have only been seen at Sichuan University, and latterly at the Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences, where the transcripts of the texts and a report are currently being produced - so the conference is a unique and exciting opportunity for scholars outside China to engage with these new discoveries.

The texts and artefacts will be presented from the point of view of the wider cultural and geographic contexts in which innovations were occurring, within the networks of knowledge that centred on south-west China in the 2nd century BCE. Areas of interest are the intersections between emerging technologies of the interior of the body, weaving and astronomy. Significant, also, are the ways in which palaeographical analysis is revealing the geographic provenance of both text and manuscripts, leading to new understandings of the exact circumstances of the production of medical texts, and by extension of authoritative text itself. 

Early access to the transcripts and photographs of the material culture discovered at the Laoguanshan site will give researchers and students an insight into the ways in which the new finds are radically changing the face of the history of science, technology and medicine. 

This joint ICCHA and CCHH event is funded by WellcomeUCL IAS (Institute of Advanced Studies), the UCL History department and the Universities China Committee in London


Opening address

· Dr Michael Loewe, Emeritus Fellow, Clare Hall Cambridge

Confirmed speakers

· Dr Gu Man 顾漫, China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences 

· Reconstructing and editing the Tianhui bamboo medical manuscripts: methods and current progress

· Professor Donald Harper, East Asian Studies, University of Chicago  Ancient Chinese excavated medical manuscripts in relation to the study of technical literature, manuscript culture, and the new philology.

· Professor Elisabeth Hsu, Anthropology, Oxford University  Title tba

· Professor Li Jianmin 李建民, Academia Sinica, Taiwan  Methodological implications for the study of medicine of the material culture of the Tianhui Han tomb, Laoguanshan.

· Professor Liu Changhua 柳长华, Director, China Institute for the History of Medicine and Medical Literature, China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences Titles and sources of the excavated bamboo medical manuscripts from the Tianhui 天回 Han tomb,  Laoguanshan 老官山.

· Dr Vivienne Lo, History, UCL Looms of Life: the warp and the weft of the body's interior design.

· Dr Shelley Ochs, China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences 'Bian que' and 'Bi xi': Reconsidering the legend of Bian Que in light of the Laoguanshan texts.

· Dr Michael Stanley-Baker, Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin Visualising materia medica across time, space and textual genre

· Professor Xie Tao 谢涛, Researcher, Chengdu Material Culture and Archaeology Research Institute  An archaeological report on the earliest Chinese looms from the Tianhui tomb, Laoguanshan.

· Dr Zhou Qi 周奇, China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences  Conceptions of disease in the bamboo medical manuscripts from the Tianhui tomb, Laoguanshan.

Confirmed chairs

· Professor Chen Ming 陈明, Department of South Asian Studies, PKU

· Professor Marc Kalinowski, EPHE, Paris

· Professor Mei Jianjun 梅建军, Director, Needham Research Institute, Cambridge

· Professor Roel Sterckx, Joseph Needham Professor and Chair, East Asian Studies, Cambridge University

· Professor Zhang Daqing 张大庆, Director, Institute of Medical Humanities, PKU

· Dr  Zhuang Yijie 庄奕杰, ICCHA, UCL Archaeology