Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Week 7: Medicine in East Asia Part 1

Lecturer: Howard Chiang

This and the next lectures provide an overview of the history of Chinese/East Asian medicine from the 17th century to the present. The Manchus captured Beijing in 1644, and their subsequent governance and expansion of China proper lasted till 1911. We will begin by exploring the dominant social, cultural, and intellectual trends of Chinese medicine in this period, during which interests in Chinese medical ideas and practices flourished in the bordering East Asian regions (e.g., Japan and Korea) and, to a lesser extent, Europe. The second lecture will be devoted to the modern transformations of Chinese medicine in China and other corners of East Asia, especially during and after the age of ‘high imperialism’ (e.g., the Opium Wars, Sino-Japanese Wars, scramble for concessions, etc.). Taking into consideration the socio-political contexts in which medical syncretism, divergences, and pluralism occurred, we will then discusses how the Chinese Communist Party invented, promoted, and nationalised ‘traditional Chinese medicine’ in the 1950s and beyond. We will conclude with a discussion of the more recent ‘globalisation’ of Chinese medicine, which coincided with China’s (re)emergence as an economic superpower in the world.

Throughout these two lectures, students are invited to consider the heuristic value (and limitations) of such analytical binaries as tradition/modernity, indigenous/foreign, local/global, alternative/dominant, and plurality/synthesis.

Discussion/Essay Questions

  • What are the strengths and limitations of viewing Chinese medicine as a medical tradition with 2,000 years of (uninterrupted) history?
  • Did 'public health' exist in early modern East Asia?
  • What are the major trends and characteristics of medicine in China and East Asia before the 20th century?
  • What role did Western biomedicine play in the modernization of medicine in China and other parts of East Asia?
  • What are some of the problems inherent in narratives about the globalization of Chinese medicine in the 20th and 21st centuries?
  • Has Chinese medicine become alternative?

Required Readings:

Angela Leung, 'Organized Medicine in Ming-Qing China: State and Private Medical Institutions in the Lower Yangtze Region', Late Imperial China 8, no. 1 (1987): 134-166.

Charlotte Furth, 'Becoming Alternative? Modern Transformations of Chinese Medicine in China and the United States', Canadian Bulletin of Medical History 28, no. 1 (2011): 5-41. (Select and download here: )

Daniel Trambaiolo, 'Native and Foreign in Tokugawa Medicine', Journal of Japanese Studies 39, no. 2 (2013): 299-324.

Further Readings:


Bridie Andrews, The Making of Modern Chinese Medicine, 1850-1960 (University of British Columbia Press, 2013).

Linda Barnes, Needles, Herbs, Gods, and Ghosts: China, Healing, and the West to 1848 (Harvard University Press, 2005).

Carol Benedict, Bubonic Plague in Nineteenth-century China (Stanford University Press, 1996).

Howard Chiang, ed., Historical Epistemology and the Making of Modern Chinese Medicine (Manchester University Press, 2015).

Sherman Cochran, Chinese Medicine Men: Consumer Culture in China and Southeast Asia (Harvard University Press, 2006).

John P. DiMoia, Reconstructing Bodies: Biomedicine, Health, and Nation-Building in South Korea Since 1945 (Stanford University Press, 2013).

Xiaoping Fang, Barefoot Doctors and Western Medicine in China (University of Rochester Press, 2012).

Charlotte Furth, A Flourishing Yin: Gender in China’s Medical History, 960-1665 (University of California Press, 1999).

Marta Hanson, Speaking of Epidemics in Chinese Medicine: Disease and the Geographic Imagination in Late Imperial China (Routledge, 2011).

Larissa Heinrich, The Afterlife of Images: Translating the Pathological Body between China and the West (Duke University Press, 2008).

Elisabeth Hsu, ed., Innovation in Chinese Medicine (Cambridge University Press, 2001).

Shigehisa Kuriyama, The Expressiveness of the Body and the Divergence of Greek and Chinese Medicine (Zone Book, 1999).

Sean Hsiang-Lin Lei, Neither Donkey nor Horse: Medicine in the Struggle over China’s Modernity (University of Chicago Press, 2014).

Angela Leung, Leprosy in China: A History (Columbia University Press, 2009).

Angela Leung and Charlottes Furth, eds., Health and Hygiene in Chinese East Asia: Policies and Publics in the Long Twentieth Century (Duke University Press, 2010).

Ming-Cheng M. Lo, Doctors within Borders: Profession, Ethnicity, and Modernity in Colonial Taiwan (University of California Press, 2002).

Aihwa Ong and Nancy N. Chen, eds., Asian Biotech: Ethics and Communities of Fate (Duke University Press, 2010).

Ruth Rogaski, Hygienic Modernity: Meanings of Health and Disease in Treaty-Port China (University of California Press, 2004).

Martin Saxer, Manufacturing Tibetan Medicine: The Creation of an Industry and the Moral Economy of Tibetanness (Berghahn Books, 2013).

Volker Scheid, Chinese Medicine in Contemporary China: Plurality and Synthesis (Duke University Press, 2002).

Volker Scheid, Currents of Tradition in Chinese Medicine, 1626-2006 (Eastland Press, 2007).

Nathan Sivin, Science and Civilization in China: Biology and Biological Technology, Vol. 6 (Cambridge University Press, 2000).

Kim Taylor, Chinese Medicine in Early Communist China, 1945-63: A Medicine of Revolution (Routledge Curzon, 2005).

Yi-Li Wu, Reproducing Women: Medicine, Metaphor, and Childbirth in Late Imperial China (University of California Press, 2010).

Mei Zhan, Other-Worldly: Making Chinese Medicine through Transnational Frames (Duke University Press, 2009).