Chinese medicine today: Issues for research, education and practice in the west

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Journal Article
Australian Journal of Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine, 2013, 8 (1), pp. 28 - 34
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In the health care professions today, research and education guide best clinical practice. However, the two main branches of research into Chinese medicine – bioscientifc and socio–historical – rarely assist Chinese medicine professionals with issues of clinical practice. Although historical, anthropological and textual researchers reveal sophisticated discourses built around a distinctive approach to knowing the world and the body–person, they do not normally discuss the implications of their work for clinical practice. Bioscientifc researchers argue that it must be possible to utilise and test Chinese medicine from within a biomedical framework. Yet the methodological constraints required by scientific research alter Chinese medicine’s traditional methods, standardise treatment protocols and remove its flexibility and responsiveness to clinical variations.This article is a commentary on the modernisation of Chinese medicine and some of the issues concerning its transmission and practice in contemporary Western settings. Over the last one hundred years, complex socio–historical factors have altered Chinese medicine’s traditional concepts and methods and generated misunderstandings for Western students and professionals.Today, bioscientifc methods and evidence act as the organising structures for medical knowledge and as a mechanism to exclude some types of knowledge. This paper argues that Chinese medicine’s unique diagnostic characteristics and therapeutic methods are worth investigating on their own terms. It applies a synthetic approach to multidisciplinary sources outside the traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) orthodoxy, which tend to contest the simplified and biomedicalised version of Chinese medicine generally available in English-speaking countries today. Multidisciplinary researchers have shown how premodern Chinese representations and modern scientific representations of the medical body have been constructed according to their respective methods of investigating reality. Their research can assist English speakers to approach Chinese medicine’s traditional perspectives, help demonstrate the relevance of those perspectives for contemporary clinical practice, and restore the traditional connectedness between Chinese medicine’s concepts and methods.
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