The body of Chinese medicine and contemporary practice

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Chinese medicine is changing rapidly in response to scientific advances and technologies, and the biomedicalisation of its traditional practices has become a global trend. Australia seems likely to follow this trend for many reasons, not the least of which is a lack of access to traditional sources. The thesis argues that, to the extent that biomedicalisation by-passes Chinese medicine‘s traditional concepts and frameworks, it disrupts diagnostic reasoning and alters the clinician’s therapeutic options. The argument assumes that Chinese medicine’s traditional conceptions are the basis of its therapeutic reasoning and decision making, that traditional conceptions guide successful clinical practice, and that contemporary clinicians understand them. However, the odds against today’s English speaking clinicians understanding the Chinese medical tradition are high. Access to premodern primary sources is problematic for non-Chinese speakers, and Chinese medicine texts in English have removed the historical and cultural contexts and meanings of traditional concepts to ‘scientise’ their content. Conversely, historical and anthropological research into Chinese medicine investigates precisely this kind of contextual information, but without reference to its clinical relevance. Rather than preserve the distinction between academic and clinical research, the thesis adopts a multidisciplinary approach to some of the issues facing Chinese medicine in Australia and the West. The significance of the study is threefold. First, it uses a broad range of English-language research and scholarship to re-imagine the traditional Chinese medical body. Second, its restoration of traditional perspectives draws out the internal intelligibility of premodern concepts and methods, and their relevance for contemporary clinical decision-making. Finally, its multidisciplinary and synthetic approach connects the interests of academic scholarship and clinical practice, and reinstates the traditional connections between Chinese medicine‘s conceptual frameworks and its clinical methods. The thesis argues that it is possible for contemporary Westerners to maintain Chinese medicine’s intelligibility as a system of medical practice. The decision to do so requires the careful restoration of traditional terms and concepts, and of the medical gaze that privileges the living body’s functional systems and activities. The restoration and re-imagining of Chinese medicine‘s traditional perspectives and methods connects contemporary Chinese medicine students and professionals to the complexity of this distinctive medical system. Our ability to recognise and understand the traditional Chinese medical body has ramifications for guiding diagnosis and therapeutic decisions, and fundamentally changes the clinical encounter. While the thesis focuses on the reception and practice of Chinese medicine in contemporary Australia, I hope the issues and topics discussed will prove relevant for English speaking Chinese medicine professionals, educators, students and users in other parts of the world. Many of the topics and materials will be of interest to healthcare providers and users generally, and to anyone with an interest in socio-cultural, philosophical and clinical constructions of the body, health, illness and medical practice.
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