The Debate over Chinese-Language Knowledge among Culture Brokers of Acupuncture in America

By Emad, Mitra C. | ETC.: A Review of General Semantics, October 2006 | Go to article overview

The Debate over Chinese-Language Knowledge among Culture Brokers of Acupuncture in America


Emad, Mitra C., ETC.: A Review of General Semantics


... those who rule the symbols, rule us.--Alfred Korzybski

OVER THE PAST 30 years, acupuncture and Chinese medicine have transformed the way many North Americans view health and health care. Today over 40% of Americans utilize some form of complementary and alternative medicine (Eisenberg et al., 1998) and acupuncture remains one of the most highly sought-after modalities. (Palinkas et al., 2000, Winslow et al., 2002)

When a millennia-old set of medical practices is appropriated from one socio-cultural setting and adopted into a markedly different one, language becomes a core site for cultural translation. Medical practices are often assumed to be immutable, static, and objectifiable entities. Medical historian Paul Unschuld suggests the opposite: like many medical systems, Chinese medicine is an extremely heterogeneous medicine, grown, adapted, and appropriated in a variety of cultural and historical settings. (Unschuld 1985) According to Unschuld, the practices of acupuncture and Chinese medicine have never constituted a stable, objectifiable set of practices that can be "taken" and then "used" in new cultural settings. The history of acupuncture and Chinese medicine is one of mutability and fluidity, strongly influenced by cultural, historical, and political contexts. (Unschuld 1985, 1987; Farquhar 1994) This raises the question of how medical practices are transformed through intercultural exchange. This essay examines how language functions as a central arena for the cultural translation of Chinese medicine into American contexts.

For those who "broker" the practice of acupuncture in the United States, the issue of cultural translation is deeply enmeshed in a debate over Chinese-language knowledge. This debate constitutes a rich ethnographic study in general semantics, because it brings to the surface a process of self-evaluation integral to the profession of American acupuncture. Cultural translation transfigures into literal translation for several of American acupuncture's luminaries. In interviews during the summers of 2002 and 2003, four of the field's most public personas initiated discussion of a series of questions they all considered crucial to the successful professionalization and cultural translation of the field of American acupuncture. The kinds of questions raised by my interlocutors--such as whether students in American acupuncture schools should be required to learn Chinese or at least Chinese medical language, whether practitioners should have Chinese language skills (such as minimal reading knowledge), and whether the field's public persona should incorporate Chinese language examples and hegemonic translations in their public presentations--constituted the contours of a heated semantic debate within the profession. I began to document this debate ethnographically by noting how each persona situated his or her public identity around these questions.

Background and Methods of this Study

My work to date (Emad 1995, 1997, 1998, 2001 [with Cassidy]) develops a multi-disciplinary, ethnographic exploration of American encounters with acupuncture and Chinese medicine. Drawing on 10 years of participant-observation and interview-based research at multiple urban and rural sites in the United States, the project explores the body as a site for cultural translation in the ongoing development of an American acupuncture. The current component of the study consists of in-depth interviews and participant-observation of the practices and workplaces (sites of practice) of six prominent American acupuncturists, leaders in the field who I identify as culture brokers who have been deeply involved in the professionalization and institutionalization of American acupuncture. (1) Each of these six "translators" of the culture of acupuncture and Chinese medicine are practitioners who have worked and continue to work in the public eye as self-conscious representatives and brokers of acupuncture and Chinese medicine: they have published popular works "translating" acupuncture to a general public and/or set up nationally (and internationally) recognized businesses and/or schools that train American acupuncturists.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Debate over Chinese-Language Knowledge among Culture Brokers of Acupuncture in America
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.