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Chinese Medical Concepts in Urban China

Change and Persistence

Martin Böke

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.
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2. Research Questions and Methodology


As already pointed out in the introduction, I detect a gap in the present scientific literature on Chinese medicine in mainland China. In the existing ethnographies, it has been clearly ascertained that there are different medical systems in China. Aside from Western-style biomedicine, there is an institutionalised Chinese medicine which refers to a certain continuity of indigenous concepts which is also open for innovations. Outside of institutions and much more informal but nonetheless accepted and practiced, there is another sector of indigenous health care (see Farquhar 1994a and Hsu 1999). However, these studies, indispensable as they are, in the majority of cases do not focus on lay people and their attitudes towards Chinese medicine, Western medicine, or other medical systems. At present, no detailed study has been conducted to analyse whether there is a comparable division on the potential patient’s side, whether Western biomedicine has become a formative medical worldview, whether indigenous concepts still prevail, whether there is a third direction or whether there is a mixture of different concepts. It can be expected that different social agents have certain attitudes towards different medical systems or treatments; we do not know whether older urban residents are more or less open to Chinese medicine than younger people or what young white-collar workers think of acupuncture and herbal drugs, about Western psychotherapy or other biomedical treatments. Furthermore, we can not see if women and men are using Chinese or Western medicine in different, gender-related ways. Consequenty, I ask questions about...

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