Chinese medicine research: The relevance of the social sciences for clinical decision-making

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Chapter
Citation:
Focus on Chinese Medicine Research: Practices and Outcomes, 2014, pp. 77 - 109
Issue Date:
2014-10-01
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© 2014 by Nova Science Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. The chapter focuses on the medical body as the site of medical theorising, research and practice. Twentieth century philosophers and historians have explained how, as the object of investigation, the body is also the effect or outcome of the investigators' research questions, perspectives and methods. Researchers in the social sciences today recognise different =bodies' according to different disciplinary epistemologies. The chapter explores the transferral of early Chinese conceptions to the medical body image and highlights the relevance of traditional perspectives for contemporary practice. The notions of a =Chinese medicine tradition' are so pervasive in the English-language literature on Chinese medicine that the chapter begins with the question of what constitutes =the tradition'. How medical practitioners and researchers perceive the body determines their methods and interpretations. From its infancy in the Han dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE), Chinese medicine's representations of the body favoured a systemic and dynamic perspective of process and change, rather than an anatomical-physicalist approach. Early perspectives were drawn from much older traditions, such as those derived from the Book of Changes (Yì jing) and =cultivating life' (yang sheng) currents of philosophy-practice, where the body was seen as the shape or disposition of the human process. In clinical practice, Chinese medicine's internal coherence relies on its traditional terms, concepts and relationships. These constructs guide the interpretation of presenting signs and symptoms, and diagnostic interpretations in turn provide the rationale for treatment decisions. Because the orientation of the medical gaze guides clinical decisionmaking, the chapter argues for the continued relevance of traditional conceptions. Even though Chinese medicine's epistemic methods are not anatomical or physicalist in nature, they have produced reliable data and repeatable interpretations. The study of Chinese medical history and its classic texts reveals detailed and pragmatic representations of health, disease and the medical body. Research publications by Chinese medicine historians, translators and anthropologists connect today's clinicians with a raft of time-honoured clinical methods and techniques recorded in the textual archive. Chinese medicine's traditional conceptions of the body- person recognise the interdependence of physical, psychological and social factors in health management, and its epistemic methods have explanatory insight and therapeutic potential for contemporary health care.
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