This collection expands the history of Chinese medicine by bridging the philosophical concerns of epistemology and the history and cultural politics of transregional medical formations. Topics range from the spread of gingko’s popularity from East Asia to the West to the appeal of acupuncture for complementing in-vitro fertilization regimens, from the modernization of Chinese anatomy and forensic science to the evolving perceptions of the clinical efficacy of Chinese medicine. The individual essays cohere around the powerful theoretical-methodological approach, “historical epistemology,” with which scholars in science studies have already challenged the seemingly constant and timeless status of such rudimentary but pivotal dimensions of scientific process as knowledge, reason, argument, objectivity, evidence, fact, and truth. Yet given that landmark studies in historical epistemology rarely navigate outside the intellectual landscape of Western science and medicine, this book broadens our understanding of its application and significance by drawing on and exploring the rich cultures of Chinese medicine. In studying the globalizing role of medical objects, the contested premise of medical authority and legitimacy, and the syncretic transformations of metaphysical and ontological knowledge, contributors illuminate how the breadth of the historical study of Chinese medicine and its practices of knowledge-making in the modern period must be at once philosophical and transnational in scope. This book will appeal to students and scholars working in science studies and medical humanities as well as readers who are interested in the broader problems of translation, material culture, and the global circulation of knowledge.
Historicalepistemology and the making of
modern Chinese medicine
The history of Chinese medicine is undergoing a sea-change. Scholars have
engaged independently and collectively in re-imagining the discipline, contextualizing it in an unprecedented way within a broader context of the translation, transmission, and global circulation of knowledge.1 This is in many
ways a new and exciting field, informed by questions that are meant to explore
the emergence of different ways of knowing in and beyond modern China,
rather than taking the existence of
How Chinese medicine became efficacious only for chronic conditions
Eric I. Karchmer
shift in nature of contemporary Chinese medicine. That doctors, scholars, or
laypersons are generally unaware of these changes is perhaps best understood
through the work of Thomas Kuhn, Michel Foucault, and other scholars of
historicalepistemology, who have argued that rapid epistemic changes are not
always recognizable, even to the actors that may help bring them about. For
example, Kuhn’s work repeatedly shows that scientific revolutions, or what he
also calls paradigm shifts, in numerous fields of scientific inquiry were recast
in narratives of incremental
"Experience" and "theory" in debates over forensic knowledge and expertise in early twentieth-century China
. Davidson, The Emergence of Sexuality:
HistoricalEpistemology and the Formation of Concepts (Cambridge, MA: Harvard
University Press, 2001), especially p. 141.
The only options? “Experience” and “theory”
15 For example, Wang Mingde (王明德) used the word in Washing Away of Wrongs
with Supplements (Xiyuan lu bu, 洗冤錄補, 1674), to explain that he had personally verified the healing techniques that he was now suggesting to readers (noting,
for example, that he recorded a technique after having “undergone it myself ” (此
係身所經驗, 故特詳而筆之). Wang Mingde, A Bodkin for Untangling
27 The perceiver or actor for this duixiang object need not be a modernist human
subject. In the broadly vitalist world addressed by Chinese medicine practitioners,
many non-human actors have intentions, perceptions, and orientations, and thus,
duixiang. See François Jullien’s discussion of “propensity” in classical Chinese
letters: François Jullien, The Propensity of Things: Toward a History of Efficacy in
China (New York: Zone Books, 1995).
28 Hans-Jörg Rheinberger is particularly effective at making a similar point in his historical
Bodily knowledge and western learning
in late imperial China: the case of
Wang Shixiong (1808–68)
What phenomena do seekers of knowledge believe to exist and choose to
investigate? How do they judge whether they have achieved the knowing of
these phenomena? And how are the terms of their inquiries shaped by time
and place? These are central questions in the study of what scholars have variously called “historical ontology” and “historicalepistemology.”1 This chapter
directs these questions at a realm of knowledge that has conventionally
Chinese medicine’s status in the western
Leon Antonio Rocha
medical marketplace, or define and delimit the direction that Chinese medicine may take.
I am grateful to Carla Nappi, Volker Scheid, and Howard Chiang for their invitation to the 2010 conference “The (After)Life of Traditional Knowledge: The
Cultural Politics and HistoricalEpistemology of East Asian Medicine.” I benefited enormously from conversations with Vincanne Adams, Bridie Andrews,
Judith Farquhar, Eric Karchmer, David Luesink, Hugh Shapiro, Volker Scheid,
and Yi-Li Wu at that
Convergences and divergences in the medical and natural histories of Gingko biloba
This research explores the intersection between the history of medicine and that of the body by tracing the medicalization of a unique plant: Ginkgo biloba. As the only surviving species of its kind, ginkgo has become one of the most popular herbs in modern times. Different from current understandings of ginkgo’s medical history, my essay identifies great divergences that have surfaced in different societies’ contemplations of ginkgo as a pharmaceutical. For example, when the Chinese in the seventeenth century proved that ginkgo could cure disorders of the lungs, their counterparts in Edo Japan (1603‐1868) were convinced that ginkgo was effective in promoting digestion. Also, when ginkgo was widespread in Europe in the late twentieth century, Europeans came to formulate that ginkgo supported mental sharpness. This essay interprets such divergences by applying what anthropologists call “regional biologies.” The ways in which different societies conceptualize ginkgo as part of their living worlds, for example, agriculture, horticulture, taxonomy, and evolutionary theory, help shape ginkgo’s medicalization and, in turn, how the body perceives of an object’s efficacies.
In classical Chinese medicine, blood in the urine, stool, or phlegm was a sign of disease in one of the body’s internal organs, not in the blood itself. In the nineteenth century, Chinese authors began to see blood in itself as a potential site of disease. This development was amplified by contact with the west, where blood was seen as the medium and substrate of diseases caused by parasites, bacteria, and nutritional deficiencies. This amalgamation of ideas generated a new body-image and phenomenology, focused on the status of a person’s blood. New herbal therapies for enlivening and nourishing the blood soon competed with cod liver oil and iron tonics from the West; biomedical understandings of blood were reinterpreted within Chinese popular culture; and comparative analyses of blood groups, red- and white-cell counts, and other aspects of blood health were used to measure racial and national fitness. This paper examines the process by which blood became both a metaphor for the health of the Chinese nation and a major theoretical and clinical development within “Chinese” medicine.
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.