East Asia Student

Random Stuff Related to East Asia


'Chinese Medicine in Early Communist China'' - thoughts on the conclusion'

I’ve just finished reading and making notes on Kim Taylor’s Chinese Medicine in Early Communist China.

The breadth and depth of the research for this book is impressive and useful for my own research project on Chinese Medicine in the UK. It was particularly good to see the original Chinese texts and sources, often at length, that Taylor had used in creating the book.

However, I did find the conclusion a little frustrating. The vast majority of the book is a well-compiled account of TCM in China in the 20th century. For some reason, though, one of the conclusions seemed a little stretched from what actually appears in the main body of the book.

"[TCM] was ... the product of an undetermined and piecemeal process which was more a careful manipulation of its value as a 'cultural legacy' ... than any consideration of its actual therapeutic value."

This is well supported in the book, and corroborates a lot of what I’ve been coming across elsewhere; TCM is a political construct (or at best cultural), and not a medical one.

The conclusion then goes on to the fact that the ‘modernisation’ of TCM that occurred from the 1950s onwards is better described as a ‘Westernisation’. Again, I agree and think this is well evidenced in the book.

But Taylor also includes the following in that analysis:

"... the very name 'Traditional Chinese Medicine' (TCM) is a name designed for foreign consumption ..."

This I’m less sure about. Whilst I agree that TCM is far more of a Western concept than a Chinese one, I don’t think this was necessarily ‘designed’ or intended by anyone in particular. The implication in Taylor’s conclusion seems to be that TCM was marketed by China, or at least the CCP, in some artificial way tailored to Western attitudes.

As the rest of the book demonstrates very well, Chinese Medicine was used politically, in quite different ways at different times, by the Communist Part and if it wasn’t for this, TCM would probably not hold the position it does today in China.

I think the situation of TCM in Western countries, though, is parallel but actually very different. The Chinese Medicine that the CCP seemed keen to export to the world was a scientific, modern one, showcasing acupuncture analgesia in particular.

This got the attention of many in the West, but what actually became of greatest interest was pretty much the complete opposite; a spiritual, holistic approach to health, placed in sharp contrast to the exacting, specific Western medical establishment.

This last was covered only very briefly in Chinese Medicine in Early Communist China, so whilst that statement in the conclusion is accurate, it seemed slightly out of place.