Academic journal article China Perspectives

Chinese Medicine and the Enticement of Heritage Status

Academic journal article China Perspectives

Chinese Medicine and the Enticement of Heritage Status

Article excerpt

(ProQuest: ... denotes non-US-ASCII text omitted.)

In November 2010, UNESCO included "Acupuncture and moxibustion as part of Chinese traditional medicine" on its Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. This article will consider the challenges of this "patrimonialisation" of Chinese medicine by going over the discipline's recent history. Chinese medicine (...- zhongyi) finds it- self in a paradoxical situation, compared in practical terms with biomedi- cine, in perpetual reclassification, and held up for good or for bad reasons. Its inclusion in the cultural heritage list highlights several problematic is- sues. The "invention" of "Traditional Chinese Medicine" (TCM) has been un- derway for more than 50 years. But the ambivalent nature of teaching has affected its transmission from expert to apprentice, and questions are con- stantly raised regarding its scientific credentials as well as its clinical and therapeutic practices. At a time when acupuncture and Chinese pharma- copoeia are increasingly spreading in Europe, the Americas, and Africa, and thus form part of the circulation of knowledge and medical know-how, their acquisition of heritage status marks a new stage in their ceaseless re- configuration at both national and international levels. Many questions arise as to the definition of this medicine, its social and cultural construc- tion, and its complex status in China and abroad. This article's main point will be an analysis of texts offered in the national list of masterpieces and submissions made to UNESCO for inclusion on its list.

Chinese medicine's recent history, progress, and debates

Chinese medicine as found in China now is the fruit of a long history, di- verse political decisions, and a theoretical and practical reconstruction. (1) After having had an ambiguous status in communist China until Mao Ze- dong's death, it began to enjoy special attention and support from the Ministry of Health from 1980 onwards. Professionalisation of traditional practitioners was encouraged, and efforts were made (in 1982-1983) to define structures for teaching (in Chinese medicine institutions) and re- search (including in hospitals), with Chinese medicine being clearly distin- guished from biomedicine. For the purpose of teaching, it was decided to club together a whole series of doctrines and therapeutic practices from previous eras drawn sometimes from different schools, but all of them carefully shorn of anything smacking too much of "superstition." In med- ical vocabulary, xiyi(... -"Western medicine") is set apart from zhongyi. The word "traditional" (... -chuantong) is hardly used in China, with the expressions "TCM" and "Traditional Chinese Medicine" being used outside the country or in Chinese publications meant for foreigners. (2)

The issue of Chinese medicine's validity and survival has been raised since the 1920s. Those favouring a modern public health system unsuc- cessfully put forward in 1929 a draft law to ban the teaching and practice of Chinese medicine. Intellectuals such as Guo Moruo and Lu Xun clubbed it with divination and such other "superstitions" of another age. After 1949, tension persisted between detractors of the system deemed irra- tional and supporters who held that the discipline represented national cultural heritage.(3)From 1950 to 1954, things did not go well for Chinese medicine, which, according to Wang Bin (...) represented "feudal soci- ety" ( ... - fengjian shehui). But from 1954 onwards Mao Zedong showed more interest in it with the creation of a section for this medicine in the Health Ministry and then the setting up of a Chinese company to produce pharmaceuticals ( ... - Zhongguo yaocai gongsi) in March 1955. The first four universities of Chinese medicine opened in 1956 - at Beijing, Chengdu, Shanghai, and Guangzhou. The idea took shape around then of "unifying Chinese medicine and Western medicine" ( ... - Zhongxiyi jiehe), and then in 1958 came the famous slogan "Chi- nese medicine and pharmacology are a great treasure" ( . …

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