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The very notion of ‘TCM theory’ is a twentieth century innovation based on a modern, scientific model of medical knowledge. It is a historical fiction utilised for social, political, medical and epistemological ends. TCM theory is constructed by selecting, and excluding, certain texts from the vast medical canon. It is further constructed by ‘framing’ that theory as an essential pair to the practice of Chinese medicine. This article will illustrate how our approach to reading Chinese medical texts determines whether we are constructing a single ‘theory’ to represent the entire tradition or a set of interpretations of doctrines or ideas that recognises the plurality of the tradition.A comparison of explanations of the phrase “the Liver and Kidneys have the same source” in standard twentieth-century textbooks and seventeenth century guides to medical practice will be our primary example.
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