Chinese Medicine in Early Communist China, 1945-63: A Medicine of Revolution

Article excerpt

Chinese Medicine in Early Communist China, 1945-63: A Medicine of Revolution, by Kim Taylor. London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2005. xii + 236 pp. £60.00/US$105.00 (hardcover).

How did Chinese medicine, which first partially lost official patronage during the Qing dynasty and then was accused of being a hoary remnant of feudalism, achieve the overwhelming revival it has today? How did therapeutic practice, training and diagnosis evolve under the new, highly politicized state sponsorship of the People's Republic of China? In a book covering the crucial period 1945-63, Kim Taylor explores how Chinese medicine repeatedly transformed itself in order to survive. This ability to be "flexible at the very core of its tenets" positioned Chinese medicine to become "a medicine of revolution" supporting the Communist agenda of societal transformation (p. 4). However, although it was a "medicine of revolution", Taylor emphasizes that Chinese medicine and the practitioners trying to revive and promote it had a reactive role. At each political turn, they scrambled to make Chinese medicine amenable to the upper echelons of the Party. This process was difficult. As policies shifted from one vague Maoist dictate to another, practitioners and policy-makers would discover that they had unintentionally gone astray. High-ranking officials repeatedly intervened to safeguard Chinese medicine, ensuring its continuity. In no case did upper-level endorsement occur because the individual believed in the therapeutic efficacy of Chinese medicine. Rather, officials supported it because of their own wider political agenda and because Chinese medicine tended to be cheaper, with more practitioners available. From the perspective of practitioners and therapeutic practice, the result was an attempt at simplification, codification and top-down control.

Taylor documents the impact of high-level policy and politics on the development of Chinese medicine, utilizing a strictly chronological recounting of events. She includes helpful appendices with the biographies of the first Chinese medical practitioners who staffed the newly established 1955 Chinese medicine research academy and a list of the national Chinese medicine course curricula for 1981 and 1997. She has also constructed an impressive bibliography of articles published by CCP organs on Chinese medical policy. Closely following the framework established by Ralph C. Croizier in his 1968 book, Traditional Medicine in Modern China, Taylor describes three stages marking Chinese medicine's rehabilitation from a supposedly heterogeneous set of superstitions appealing to people living in the countryside to a modern, scientific and systematic set of practices which, according to Chairman Mao, was a "great treasure-house" heralded as China's gift to the world. From 1945 to 1950, practitioners of Western medicine, endorsed by officials as an exemplar of the scientific ideal, were supposed to "cooperate" with Chinese medical practitioners. From 1950 to 1958, the two medicines were supposed to "unify", so that Chinese medicine lost a separate identity and transformed itself into a mirror of Western medical procedures. This was a two-step process: from 1949 to 1953 Chinese practitioners were to learn from Western medicine and from 1953 to 1956 doctors of Western medicine were to learn from Chinese medicine so that they could utilize their scientific thinking to help develop new curricula and techniques. …