Chinese Medical Concepts in Urban China

Change and Persistence

by Martin Böke (Author)
©2014 Thesis 212 Pages


Popular assertions proclaim a tradition of Chinese medicine spanning several thousand years. But is this really important for today’s China? Is Chinese medicine relevant for the modern, cosmopolitan urban Chinese today? And, as the political system has changed dramatically during the last century, do these changes influence people’s estimation of illnesses? Combining both a quintessential analysis of the relationship between emotions and health in different texts on Chinese medicine and empirical data consisting of quantitative and qualitative components, the author demonstrates that different social groups of urban dwellers share different opinions on Chinese medicine and its illness concepts, particularly those concepts commonly referred to as Seven Emotions. Education, age and gender are relevant categories for the evaluation of Chinese medicine, especially considering emotions such as stress or depression.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Content
  • I. Acknowledgements
  • II. List of Figures, Tables and Abbrevations
  • Figures
  • Tables:
  • Abbreviations:
  • 1. Introduction
  • Raising the Subject
  • Why China?
  • The Situation in the Field
  • A Short History of Medicine in China
  • The Concept of Harmony
  • The Concepts of qi 氣, yin 陰 and yang 陽
  • The ‘Five Phases’ (wuxing 五行)
  • Demonic Medicine
  • Medical Pluralism and the Contemporary Situation of Chinese Medicine in China
  • Chinese Medicine versus Western Medicine
  • The Contemporary Situation of Chinese Medicine
  • Excursion: Ethnology and Emotions
  • Emotions as “Complex Reactions in the Struggle of Survival” (Plutchick 1982: 551)
  • Emotions as “Embodied Thought” (Rosaldo 1984: 143)
  • 2. Research Questions and Methodology
  • Methods
  • 3. Emotions and Health in Classical Chinese Texts
  • Classical Philosophical Texts
  • Confucianism
  • Daoism
  • Similar aim, different approaches
  • Classical Medical Texts and the Impact of Emotions
  • The Huangdi neijing
  • The Nanjing
  • Miscellaneous Classical Medical Texts
  • 4. Emotions and Health in Modern Medical Textbooks
  • Zhongyi Neikexue (2002)
  • Zhongyi jichu lilun
  • Zhongyi neikexue (2007)
  • Zhongyi linchuang jichu
  • 5. Somatization: ‘Eastern Culture-Bound Syndrome’ or ‘Western Culture-Bound Perspective’?
  • 6. Empirical Results
  • The Questionnaire Survey
  • Construction of the Questionnaire
  • The Percept Pathological Potential of Emotions
  • The Relationship Between Organs and Emotions
  • The Knowledge of Chinese Medical Concepts
  • Sources of Knowledge
  • Different Medical Systems in Beijing
  • ‘Measuring’ Urban Chinese Inhabitants’ Attitudes on Chinese medicine
  • General Attitudes on Chinese Medicine
  • Estimating the Pathological Potential of Emotions
  • Discussion
  • Beijing Inhabitants’ Familiarity with Chinese Medical Concepts and the Evaluation of Chinese Medicine
  • The Pathological Potential of Emotions
  • Group-specific Perception of Illnesses Caused by Emotions
  • Utilization of Chinese Medicine
  • The Experts’ Interviews
  • Expert’s View on Illness and Emotions
  • Medical Experts’ Estimations of Patients’ Knowledge
  • Medical Experts’ Position to Transfer of Knowledge
  • Medical Experts’ Statements on Group Specific Behaviour and Estimations
  • Younger Generation’s Openness for Chinese Medical Ideas
  • Group Specific Ailments of Young Urban Inhabitants
  • Miscellaneous
  • 7. Specific Answering Patterns
  • Age-specific Peculiarities: Changing Habitus and Different Modes of Power
  • Antagonistic Estimation of Stress and Depression
  • ‘Somatization’ versus ‘Psychologization’
  • Different modes of power
  • Education-specific Peculiarities: Stress, Depression and the Chinese Education System
  • Education as a Specific Form of ‘Capital’
  • Stress and Depression as Downside of the Chinese Education System
  • Gender-specific Peculiarities: ‘Superior Births’ and ‘Superior Mothers’
  • “Superior Births” and “Superior Mothers” as Strategies for Raising Population Quality
  • 8. Conclusion: Chinese Medicine Between Change and Persistence
  • Common Perception of Chinese Medicine in Beijing
  • Common Perception of the Connection Between Emotions and Illness
  • Group-specific Peculiarities
  • Outlook
  • 9. Appendices
  • Appendix 1:
  • Appendix 2:
  • Social statistics of the survey participants:
  • Appendix 3:
  • Information on medical experts and medical institutions
  • 10. References

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II. List of Figures, Tables and Abbrevations


Fig. 1: The yin yang-Symbol

Fig. 2: Political slogans concerning the relationship between Chinese and Western medicine

Fig. 3: Map of the city centre of Beijing with the 4th ring road

Fig. 4: Distribution of gender in age groups among survey participants

Fig. 5: Pathogenesis of Heart Disease

Fig. 6: Pathogenesis of Liver Disease

Fig. 7: Aetiology of Depression

Fig. 8: Investigation areas

Fig. 9: Distribution of gender in age groups among survey participants

Fig. 10: Distribution of survey participants according to city districts

Fig. 11: Can emotions induce illnesses?

Fig. 12: Most frequently mentioned illness terms

Fig. 13a: Illnesses caused by emotions: age-specific answering patterns

Fig. 13b: Illnesses caused by emotions: age-specific answering patterns

Fig. 14: Organs perceived as being potentially influenced by emotions

Fig. 15: Knowledge and evaluation of the book ‘Huangdi neijing’

Fig. 16: Self-reported knowledge of certain Chinese medical concepts

Fig. 17: Self-reported lack of knowledge of Chinese medical concepts according to education

Fig. 18: Numbers of emotions named as belonging to the ‘Seven Emotions’

Fig. 19: Self-reported knowledge of ‘psychotherapy’ (jingshen liaofa 精神疗法) according to age groups

Fig. 20: Perceived meaning of the term ‘psychotherapy’ (jingshen liaofa 精神疗法) according to age groups

Fig. 21: Sources of medical knowledge

Fig. 22: Perceived availability of different medical systems in Beijing

Fig. 23: Reported consultation of different medical systems in the last year

Fig. 24: Reported consultation of different medical systems in the last year by men

Fig. 25: Reported consultations of different medical systems in the last year by women

Fig. 26: Attitudes on Chinese medicine: distribution of sum-scores

Fig. 27: Attitudes on Chinese medicine: distribution of sum-scores ← 9 | 10 → according to age

Fig. 28: Attitudes on Chinese medicine: distribution of sum-scores according to gender

Fig. 29: Attitudes on pathological potential of emotions: distribution of sum-scores

Fig. 30: Attitudes on pathological potential of emotions: distribution of sum-scores according to educational background

Fig. 31: Young Red Guards on a cover of a 1971 schoolbook

Fig. 32: Billboards advertising women’s hospitals in Beijing

Fig. 33: Picture of a so called ‘struggle session’ (1967, Shenyang)

Fig. 34: The ‘Haidian district healthcare clinic for mothers and infants” haidianqu fuyou boajian yuan 海淀区妇幼保健院)


Table 1: The ‘Five Phases’

Table 2: The Zangfu Organs

Table 3: Question categories and exemplarily questions asked during experts’ interviews


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I. Acknowledgements

I gratefully acknowledge the support and help of many individuals and several institutions who supported me on various occasions during the last years. I am indebted to their help, criticism and encouragement.

First of all, I am indebted to my PhD-thesis supervisor Prof. Dr. Michael J. Casimir (this book is based on my PhD-thesis, University of Cologne 2013). The German term “Doktorvater” is a nice description, for it reveals a deeper insight in how the relationship between teacher and student can be shaped ideally. I am happy to have found a teacher who supported me throughout my study in waking my curiosity in Cultural Anthropology and especially in Medical Anthropology, but who also became a good friend and advisor. He not only was a dedicated teacher to me, but he is also constantly a critical and inspiring discussion partner.

Additionally, my thanks go to my second supervisor, Prof. Dr. Michael Bollig, who also encouraged me in my endeavours, provided me with useful contacts and established far-reaching academic relationships.

Furthermore I would like to thank the staff of the Institute of Cultural and Social Anthropology of the University of Cologne with its director, Prof. Dr. Martin Rössler. They supported me in my scholarly interest through many years.

I am also indebted to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, to the Beijing Minzu University (北京中央民族大学) and its Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, namely to Prof. Dr. Zhang Jijiao, Prof. Du Fachun and especially to Prof. Zhang Xiaomin. They were a great and attentive help during my field visits in Beijing, inspiring conversation partners and hospitable hosts. Additionally, I like to thank cordially Dr. Wang Yuan, Dr. Wang Xiuxiao and Dr. Sun Xiaoshu, who helped me carrying out my research, facilitated helpful contacts and furthermore helped me to avoid loneliness in my field site. They were not only reliable and indispensable research assistants and inspiring colleagues, but also warm-hearted friends.

The realization of this whole project would have been impossible without the support of the a.r.t.e.s. Forschungsschule, the graduate school of the University of Cologne. A.r.t.e.s. as an institution supported me financially with a scholarship, but furthermore, the people building up a.r.t.e.s. helped me developing my ideas, constantly reviewed my project and enlarged my scholarly focus. Especially I would like to thank the spokesperson of a.r.t.e.s., Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Andreas Speer, for his constant interest and encouragement and his ability to ← 7 | 8 → create a good and expedient institution with a fruitful working atmosphere. Furthermore, I would like to thank the members of the a.r.t.e.s. Class 5, who made useful suggestions on my project.

Equally impossible would the project have been without the obliging and helpful manner of the inhabitants of Beijing. This is true for the nameless, common people on the streets, who, with no word of irritation, haste or rejection, answered my questions patiently, tried to help me when I was struggling with my Chinese, or just were nice and friendly interviewees. Furthermore, this is true for the staff of the medical institutions I visited and which have to stay anonymous in this book on their own accord. They spent their time to answer my questions patiently and to satisfy my curiosity, showed me their working places and explained their attitudes and opinion openly and without hesitation. I am indebted to all of my informants: the collected data, and consequently the backbone of this book, all stems from their patience and helpfulness.

Truly I am indebted to my family. My parents constantly supported me, not only financially on more than one occasion, but also ideationally. I owe to my brother, Dr. Simon Boeke, several interesting debates about biomedical attitudes and practices, and additionally he helped me to understand complicated biomedical issues.

And I would like to thank my Julia for her constant support, for being my source of happiness and contentedness, and for catching me up several times when I was about to struggle.

Cologne, August 2013

Martin Boeke


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2014 (March)
Chinese Medicine Medical Anthropology Stress Depression Habitus Governmentality
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 212 pp., 47 graphs, 3 tables

Biographical notes

Martin Böke (Author)

Martin Böke studied Cultural Anthropology, Sinology, History and Geography in Cologne and Beijing. For his doctoral thesis he was awarded a scholarship from the a.r.t.e.s. Graduate School of the Humanities in Cologne. He currently is a teaching assistant at the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Cologne.


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