Chinese Medicine in Contemporary China: Plurality & Synthesis

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As a traditional healing art that has established a contemporary global presence, Chinese medicine defies categories and raises many interesting questions. If Chinese medicine is "traditional," why has it not disappeared with the rest of traditional Chinese society? If, as some claim, it is a science, what does that imply about what we call science? What is the secret of Chinese medicine's remarkable adaptability that has allowed it to prosper for more than 2,000 years? In Chinese Medicine in Contemporary China Volker Scheid presents an ethnography of Chinese medicine that seeks to answer these questions, but his ethnography is informed by some atypical approaches. Scheid, a medical anthropologist and practitioner of Chinese medicine in practice since 1983, has produced an ethnography that accepts plurality as an intrinsic and nonreducible aspect of medical practice. It has been widely noted that a patient visiting ten different practitioners of Chinese medicine may receive ten different prescriptions for the same complaint, yet many of these various treatments may be effective. In attempting to illuminate the plurality in Chinese medical practice, Scheid redefines-and in some cases abandons-traditional anthropological concepts such as tradition, culture, and practice in favor of approaches from disciplines such as science and technology studies, social psychology, and Chinese philosophy. As a result, his book sheds light not only on Chinese medicine but also on the Western academic traditions used to examine it and presents us with new perspectives from which to deliberate the future of Chinese medicine in a global context. Chinese Medicine in Contemporary China is the product of two decades of research including numerous interviews and case studies. It will appeal to a western academic audience as well as practitioners of Chinese medicine and other interested medical professionals, including those from western biomedicine.

Volker Scheid is widely known for his contributions to debates about the essence of Chinese medicine and the related implications for research and education. In this new and exciting book, Volker develops his arguments further, adding his not inconsiderable intellectual weight gained from his doctoral studies at the University of Cambridge. His approach is inter-disciplinary, combining his experience as a practitioner with the tools of anthropology as well as science and technology studies. His book has also been informed by a year of fieldwork in Beijing where he had the privilege of working with a variety of Chinese doctors, and experiencing first-hand the state of Chinese medicine in contemporary China. This extraordinary book is the result therefore of an eclectic mix of experience, study and fieldwork. It is also has a lot to say to us about future directions of Chinese medicine in the West.
This book provides some clues to the puzzling questions. How come Chinese medicine has not disappeared like so many other traditional medicines around the world. And if knowing Chinese medicine requires deep familiarity with Chinese language and culture, how come it is a medicine that can travel across continents and cultures. And how come this 2000 year old healing art has so successfully established itself with a global presence?
Volker uses case studies which come from his time with Chinese doctors to explore the creative synthesis that occurs when Chinese and Western medicine meet, and the dynamic interplay that sparkles at the boundary of these radically different traditions.
Volker argues cogently for us to be wary of attempts by westerners to define some "essence" of Chinese medicine. He also strongly criticises the over-simplification of Chinese medicine to fit a "system". Drawing from both the history and current state of Chinese medicine in China, he argues that such efforts can never do justice to the medicine's diversity and complexity. This diversity is apparent in the way different practitioners diagnose and treat different patients differently. Contradictions abound, between different traditions and, within traditions, between different styles.
Instead of seeing lack of systematisation as a weakness or a failure, Volker makes the case for a much deeper understanding of Chinese medicine. Plurality emerges as intrinsic to Chinese medicine, a central theme of the book. Volker identifies Chinese medicine's adaptability and the plasti"city" of its traditions that allow it to continuously emerge and reinvent itself as a relevant medical tradition. And this plurality means that medical practice is forever changing, transforming itself in what he calls the "whirlpool of simultaneously present and past futures". This frees us as practitioners of Chinese medicine from being haunted by the delusional search for the essence. It makes sense for us to see Chinese medicine as an ongoing process of synthesis, and therefore a living and vibrant tradition.
Hugh MacPherson

CONTENTS: Acknowledgments; Timeline on Chinese History; Geographical Map of China; Preface Part I: Chinese Medicine and the Problem of Plurality 1. Orientations 2. Plurality & Synthesis: Toward a Multi-Sited Ethnography of Chinese Medicine Part II: Contemporary Chinese Medicine: Six Case Studies 3. Hegemonic Pluralism: Chinese Medicine In a Socialist State 4. Dilemmatic Choices & Tactical Agency: Patients and the Transformations of Chinese Medicine 5. Shaping Chinese Medicine: Integration, Innovation, Synthesis 6. Subject Positionalities and Social Topographies: Becoming a Physician of Chinese Medicine 7. Bianzheng lunzhi: The Emergent Pivot of Contemporary Chinese Medicine 8. Creating Knowledge: The Origins of Plurality Part III: Anthropological Interventions 9. The Future of Chinese Medicine Part IV: Appendices & Bibliographies Appendix 1: Four Attempts at Systematizing Pattern Differentation and Treatment Determination; Appendix 2: Zhang Xichun's Case History & Its Re-Presentation by Liu Yu; Bibliography 1: Pre-Modern Chinese Texts; Bibliography 2: Modern Chinese Western Sources

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Volker Scheid

Duke University Press, 2003

408 pages


Author Volker Scheid
Publication Date 1 Jan 1970
Publisher Duke University Press
Number of Pages 432
Book Format Softback
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