As a traditional healing art that has established a contemporary global presence, Chinese medicine defies many categories and raises many interesting questions. If Chinese medicine is "traditional," why has it not disappeared with the rest of traditional Chinese society? If, as some claim, it is a science, what does that imply about what we call science? What is the secret to Chinese medicine's remarkable adaptability that has allowed it to prosper for more than 2000 years? In Chinese Medicine in Contemporary China Volker Scheid presents an ethnography of Chinese medicine, but an ethnography informed by some atypical approaches. Scheid, a medical anthropologist and doctor of Chinese medicine in practice for more than a decade, has produced an ethnography which, unlike those ethnographies that search for an irreducible essence of their subject, accepts plurality as an intrinsic and non-reducible aspect of medical practice. It has been widely noted that a patient visiting ten different practitioners of Chinese medicine may receive ten different prescriptions for the same complaint, and yet many of these various treatments may be effective.
In attempting to illuminate the plurality inherent in Chinese medical practice, Scheid redefines - and in some cases abandons - traditional anthropological concepts such as tradition, culture, and practice, in favour of approaches from disciplines such as cognitive studies and systems theory. Most frequently he employs tools from science and technology studies (STS) and as a result sheds light not only on Chinese medicine, but also on these western academic traditions themselves. Chinese Medicine in Contemporary China is the product of two decades of research, and countless interviews and case studies. It will appeal to a western academic audience as well as practitioners of Chinese medicine and other interested medical professionals, including those from western biomedicine.
Volker Scheid is Wellcome Trust Research Fellow in the Department of History, School of Oriental and African Studies, at the University of London.