State power, governmentality, and the (mis)remembrance of Chinese medicine
in Historical epistemology and the making of modern Chinese medicine
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In China, between 1916 and 1930, two projects mixed power, language and epistemology: the attempt to unify the terminology for medicine; and the attempt to regulate and abolish Chinese medicine. The annual meetings of the Joint Committee for medical and scientific terminology during these years became a staging point for practitioners of “western medicine” in their attempts to retrain and ultimately obliterate practitioners of an older form of medicine which abolitionists decried as “insane.” This paper follows the abolition attempts of Yu Yunxiu, who infamously attempted to eliminate Chinese medicine in the late 1920s, and those of a lesser known predecessor, Tang Erhe, a founding member of the Joint Terminology Committee. I argue that it is no coincidence that participation in the mundane work of standardizing terminology occurred simultaneously with, or just prior to, Tang and Yu’s most determined attempts to use their considerable influence within the state to regulate practitioners of Chinese medicine. The logic of governmentality led men like Tang and Yu to eliminate ambiguity in the medical field by establishing a clear standard for medical education, based on anatomical interventions and a standardized terminology. Chinese medicine survived the struggle, but in the process itself became entrenched in a system of self-governmentalization.

Editor: Howard Chiang


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