A Review of Volker Scheid's Chinese Medicine in Contemporary
China: Plurality and Synthesis
by Bob Flaws, Dipl. Ac. & C.H., Lic.Ac., FNAAOM,
Volker Scheid's new book, Chinese
Medicine in Contemporary China: Plurality and Synthesis, is
a hugely significant read for anyone interested in the practice
and development of Chinese medicine during the last hundred years.
For those who may not know Volker, he is a German-born practitioner
of Chinese medicine as well as a medical anthropologist at the
University of London. While many acupuncturists might find this
book is a somewhat difficult read due to its academic jargon,
I believe it is well worth the effort. This book is the clearest
and most complete explanation I have read of the various factors
influencing the development of Chinese medicine in Republican,
Maoist, Dengist, and contemporary China. If I were going to teach
a class in the history of Chinese medicine, this book definitely
would be assigned reading. Since its publication, there is no
longer any excuse for much of the mythological thinking about
Chinese medicine current in the West.
Volker's central premise is that the development of Chinese medicine
in China is and always has been a multifactorial process which
cannot be reduced to any of the simplistic assumptions commonly
bandied about by modernist anthropologists and Western practitioners
of Chinese medicine alike. Essentially, this is postmodernist
complexity theory applied to the ethnography of Chinese medicine
(with dollops of Yi Jing and the Buddhist theory of codependent
origination thrown in). As such, it appears to be cutting edge
social science. Volker attempts to elucidate the complex variety
of factors that affect the practice and development of Chinese
medicine through a series of "case histories." These case histories
deal with the bi-directional relationships of Chinese medicine
and its practitioners with the Chinese government, patients, Western
medicine, educational institutions, the Chinese medical literature,
social networks, technology, and the marketplace. While these
case histories support Volker's postmodernist thesis, they are
also enlightening descriptions of the state of Chinese medicine
in the People's Republic of China and what life is like for a
contemporary Chinese doctor. Even though I myself have lived and
studied in China, I had no idea of some of the behind-the-scenes
factors influencing why Chinese doctors do and say the things
they do. Likewise, even though I myself read Chinese, Volker's
erudition in the Chinese medical literature is extraordinary.
As Volker himself counsels, non-anthropological readers may want
to skip Part 1 which presents Volker's theory of codependent origination.
However, Part 2 on the state of contemporary Chinese medicine
and Part 3 on the future of Chinese medicine are more than worth
the price of this book. Anyone terminally attached to their current
assumptions about contemporary Chinese medicine should probably
not read this book, but, for anyone interested in a mature, complex,
but thoroughly human and humane discussion of Chinese medicine,
this book is a true eye-opener.
Publisher: Duke University Press
Place of publication: Durham, NC
Binding: Perfectbound; matte, coated cover stock; acid-free paper
Illustrations: Black & white photos and antique Chinese medical
ISBN (paperback): 0-8223-2972-0
Price: $23.95 Hardback version available.
it on Amazon.com!