Remaking “Patients”: Politics of Space in the Conflicts between Traditional Chinese Medicine and Western Medicine, 1832–1985

Volume 03, Issue 1

This is an ambitious book both in terms of its scope and its approach. It covers the period between the early nineteenth century and the late twentieth century, and it deals with several important subjects relating to the history of medicine in modern China such as missionary medicine, early psychiatric asylums, urban and rural health care, and the conflict between Western medicine and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). The book covers a long period and its chapters generally follow a chronological order; nevertheless, it eschews the dry, tedious listing of names and events that are all too common in general histories written by Chinese historians. In the introduction of his book, Yang criticizes these Chinese historians, who are also practitioners of TCM, for focusing their research on evaluating the “scientific content” of TCM (p. 4). He also explicitly rejects diffusionist accounts of Western medicine in China. His approach has thus departed from the kind of internal history of medical concepts and theories that is still dominant in Chinese historians' writing today. On the other hand, the book also differs significantly from Whiggish accounts of the introduction of modern Western medicine to China and the modernization of TCM. Yang's analysis of medicine in China during this turbulent period is characterized by detailed discussions of state policies and keen attention to popular culture. Furthermore, he has not shied away from using contemporary social theories and philosophy, such as the concepts championed by Michel Foucault, Anthony Giddens, Susan Sontag, and others, as analytical tools. The result is both refreshing and intriguing.

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