Academic journal article China Perspectives

The Institutional Transmission of Chinese Medicine: A Typology of the Main Issues

Academic journal article China Perspectives

The Institutional Transmission of Chinese Medicine: A Typology of the Main Issues

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: The aim of this article is to propose a typology of the different issues that the transmission of traditional Chinese medicine encounters today in the world, by successively highlighting ideological, epistemological, political, and educational difficulties. After showing how much the polarised aspect of the debates on Chinese medicine is already entrenched among specialists in this discipline, we explore the question of the epistemological status of this Chinese tradition by confronting it with the dominant biomedicine of Western origin. The originality of Chinese structures that were set up to protect and promote this national tradition is then highlighted as a possible source of inspiration at the international level, before describing the different economic factors likely to play a positive or negative role in the development of this medical and cultural heritage at the local level. Finally, the specific didactic questions that the transmission of this heritage and the teaching of this discipline raise are analysed before presenting a conclusion.

KEYWORDS: Chinese medicine, epistemology, health policy, pedagogy

Teaching Chinese medicine to a Western public that knows almost nothing about the philosophical principles of Chinese civilisation implies overcoming a set of considerable intellectual, pedagogical, and institutional difficulties.(1) In 2004, Professor Éric Marié, who at that time held a position as research director at the Nanchang faculty of Chinese Medicine in Jiangxi and also taught this discipline at Lausanne University, (2) was invited to use his expertise to establish a university degree that might help meet this challenge at France's University of La Rochelle. This degree, first supported by a letter written by the educa- tional advisor at the Chinese Embassy in France to the university presi- dent, and then approved by the board of directors, received numerous registration applications but never saw the light of day. The registration forms were returned to the students. No reason was ever given to ex- plain why this course of studies was not ultimately launched. This expe- rience of failure led Pierre-Henry de Bruyn, who initiated the project, to ponder the resistance that traditional Chinese medicine encounters when attempting to penetrate a university environment in certain Western countries. The present article is the fruit of this reflection, en- riched by the reflections that have led Évelyne Micollier to the Chinese health system over the course of some 20 years. The work below con- sists of tracing a typology of the ideological, epistemological, political, economic, and educational issues that come together around Chinese medicine in its transmission process, in order to identify some conside- rations regarding its future. In the line of thinking of this particular do- cument, we consider Chinese medicine as a world heritage, and not as a purely Chinese or local phenomenon. This allows us to illustrate our thoughts using observations made in China, as well as in East Asia and the West.

The first issue: Avoiding a caricatured ideological bipolarisation

The first difficulty we encounter when discussing Chinese medicine in a university setting comes from the way discussions on this subject quickly take on an ideological flavour. This problem has also existed in China for a number of years, as could be observed in 2006 with the mediated debate centring around an article by Zhang Gongyao, professor of philosophy of science at Changsha University, which considered the issue of including TCM in the Chinese public health system. (3) Meanwhile in the West, this ideological aspect is even more pronounced in that it also crosses the nar- row field of several specialists in this discipline, as we shall demonstrate. The "national character" of "Chinese" medicine involuntarily reveals these deep reflexes in the Western world that determine people's attitudes to- ward the Other. In the preface of a book on the practice of acupuncture in the West published in 1997, Giovanni Maciocia thus pointed out:

Practically ever since Oriental medicine was introduced to the Western world, at least in recent times, there has been a dynamic tension between the need to absorb, understand and preserve Ori- ental medicine and the need to adapt it to Western conditions. …

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