Knowing Practice: The Clinical Encounter of Chinese Medicine

Knowing Practice: The Clinical Encounter of Chinese Medicine

Knowing Practice: The Clinical Encounter of Chinese Medicine

Knowing Practice: The Clinical Encounter of Chinese Medicine

Synopsis

This book examines the theory and practice of traditional medicine in modern China. Farquhar describes the logic of diagnosis and treatment from the inside perspective of doctors and scholars. She demonstrates how theoretical and textual materials interweave with the practical requirements of the clinic. By showing how Chinese medical choices are made, she considers problems of agency in relation to different forms of knowledge. Knowing Practice will be of value not only to anthropologists interested in medical practice but also to historians and sociologists interested in the social life of technical expertise and traditional teachings.

Excerpt

In the Fall of 1982 I began an eighteen-month period of study and participant observation at the Guangzhou (Canton) College of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Among many other services provided to me by the college were regular "guidance" sessions, which I could use to question teachers in various specialties about the contents of the readings and lectures in my classes. In the course of these wide-ranging conversations, I sometimes pointed out apparent contradictions between textbooks or clinical scenarios in which conflicting explanations might be equally plausible. My question often was "How do doctors know which statement or explanation is correct?" Invariably the answer was "We take experience [jingyan] to be our guide," or, rebuking me for my literal-mindedness, "We take practice [shijian] to be the main thing." Later, in interviews with a few senior Chinese doctors (formal affairs in which the wisdom I collected was almost indistinguishable from their published writings), these statements came up again and again: Questions about disagreements between doctors, the work of textbook committees, the design of medical college curricula, and the involved technical disputes between schools of thought were all met with the same insistence on experience and practice.

The long process in which I came to accept these responses as "the answers" for an ethnographic study of Chinese medicine has led to the structure and argument of this book. I began to realize as I gained more familiarity with Chinese medical textbooks, clinical practices, and technical literature that my questions about logical contradictions and hypothetical situations had been forged in an intellectual environment quite different from that occupied (and generated) by my teachers in Guangzhou. Their answers were not so much evasive as they were effective in casting doubt on the value of my questions. By following their advice and altering the abstract epistemological bent of my original interests, I was able to perceive these notions of practice and experience, not as residual categories full of idiosyncratic . . .

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