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Textbooks of contemporary Chinese medicine regularly claim that the Chinese medical tradition makes available treatment strategies for biomedically defined disorders and that these treatment strategies are rooted in traditional doctrine and thousands of years of experience. The present article shows that at least for the case of menopausal syndrome this claim is plainly untrue. Chinese treatment strategies for menopausal syndrome emerged in the early 1960s as part of ongoing efforts to modernise Chinese medicine. This process involved translation of the biomedical understanding of menopause as a problem of hormone deficiency into the Chinese medical idiom of Kidney deficiency. In the course of this translation contrary views were systematically edited out of official discourse. Given the debatable content of biomedicine’s understanding of menopause – characterised by an emphasis on biology that ignores important social and cultural differences in the subjective experience of menopause, as well as a process of medicalisation that turns a natural process into a disease – this translation is extremely problematic. Through a comparison with Japanese Kampo approaches to menopause the author shows that these problems are not merely conceptual but may impact directly on efficacy in clinical practice. Comparing the creation of TCM to that of colonisation – a process in which natives are often active participants – allows us to question Chinese medical textbook knowledge in an effort to create treatment strategies that best serve the needs of patients in the West.
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