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Westerners' misconceptions about Chinese Medicine

When alien ideas are imported into a culture they are pretty well inevitably misunderstood. This happens in religion - how many Christians think of Christianity as a Near-Eastern religion? (There is the probably apocryphal remark by an American congressman: "If English was good enough for Jesus it's good enough for me.")

The same is true of medicine. The current enthusiasm for Chinese medicine is based on a pretty distorted view of what Chinese medicine actually is. One good source for correcting this misconception is Shigehisa Kurihama's book The Expressiveness of the Body and the Divergence of Greek and Chinese Medicine.

Another that I've recently come across is Nigel Wiseman's Westerners' Alternative Health-Care Values Eclipsing a Wealth of Knowledge. available here.

This is a long scholarly discussion of the subject. The topics include:

- Western motives for adopting Chinese medicine
- Influences of spiritual, physical, and philosophical traditions of the Orient
- Inaccurate characterisations eclipsing a body of knowledgge
- Intuition
- The root problem and the solution

The 'solution' proposed is, in outline, more and better translation of the Chinese texts.

From Wiseman's conclusion:

Too often, Chinese medicine is prized for certain qualities judged to be lacking in Western medicine. There is a tendency to assume that any desirable qualities that Western medicine lacks must be present in Chinese medicine, and to project those qualities onto Chinese medicine. In the process of projecting ideas onto Chinese medicine, other features have been obscured. I have argued against the false assumption that clinical experience and intuition are exclusively features of Chinese medicine, while theory and book-learning are characteristics of Western medicine that are of little import to the traditional Chinese physician.


This is an important article for anyone who is seriously interested in Chinese medicine.

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