Institutional Encounters: Post-colonial Predicaments for Traditional Asian Medicine

Panel organisers:

Name Email
Lili Lai
Eric I. Karchmer

This panel proposes to explore the postcolonial predicaments encountered by practitioners of traditional Asian medicine as they have become incorporated in or confronted the necessity of working through modern medical institutions. Through the first half of the 20th century, it is arguable that the vast majority of traditional practitioners across Asia worked outside modern health care institutions. Since World War II, which also marks the beginning of decolonizing process across the region, there has been an ever increasing pressure - a "postcolonial" imperative - in newly independent nation-states to bring modern institutional organization to traditional medical practices. How have these institutions enhanced, altered, or threatened the development of Asian medicine? In this panel, we hope to explore this question across a number of different social and historical boundaries. Karchmer's paper will address the role of modern anatomy in the institutionalization of Chinese medicine. When the Chinese state began to establish hospitals of Chinese medicine in the late 1950s, knowledge of anatomy became essential to the practice of Chinese medicine, to the extent that doctors of Chinese medicine now measure their clinical work against the truth claims of anatomy. For example, it is widely claimed that Western medicine treats "structural" pathologies, while Chinese medicine only treats "functional" ones. Lai's paper will address the postcolonial predicament facing practitioners of other ethnic medicines in China, looking specifically at the case of Zhuang medicine. In the early Communist period, Zhuang medicine was considered to be mere "folk" medicine, best administered through the new institutions of Chinese medicine. Since early 1980s, the orchestrated effort of healers, ethnobotanists, historians, and administrators have finally achieved state recognition of Zhuang medicine, culminating in the graduation of the first class of Zhuang medicine doctors from Guangxi University of Chinese medicine in July 2016. But these doctors confront new obstacles to the creation of a full-fledged Zhuang medicine: there are few available jobs for doctors of Zhuang medicine and their new  diplomas disqualify them for work in Chinese medicine institutions. This panel proposes to trace the effects of these and other such postcolonial encounters across the world of traditional Asia medicine.

Impressions of ICTAM IX

  • Impressions of ICTAM IX, 2017, by Matthias Burmeister, ICTAM IX Filmteam