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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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4. Emotions and Health in Modern Medical Textbooks


The classical texts of Chinese philosophy and medicine and their discussion concerning emotionality and illness lay the foundation for Chinese medicine’s modern interpretation and consideration of the pathological risk of being emotional. I present a selective number of recently published textbooks on Chinese medicine and intend to demonstrate that today the connections of emotions and illness are still perceived as deep and influential despite the few differences in the selected textbooks when it comes to therapeutic principles and treatment options.

The starting point and beginning of a “50-year history of textbooks” conceptually forming Chinese medicine (Hsu 2008: 467) doubtlessly is the Zhongyixue gailun (中医学概论 ‘Introduction to Chinese Medicine’), which was published in its first edition in 1958. This book, as quoted in Ots (1999), presents an argument similar to the classical texts, connecting the health risks of emotionality mainly to their excess:

„Die Stimmungslage und der Zustand des Denkens haben auf die Entstehung und die Entwicklung von Krankheiten großen Einfluss. Die chinesische Medizin legt größten Wert auf die Veränderung der Stimmung und ihre Beziehung zur Krankheit, die sich phänomenologisch durch die sieben Emotionen äußern. [...]Die sieben Emotionen repräsentieren den durch jedwede äußeren Reize konstituierten psychischen Zustand des Menschen. Unter normalen äußeren Bedingungen und bei normaler physiologischer Aktivität induzieren die sieben Emotionen keinerlei Krankheit. Sollten die Reize aber zu stark oder langandauernd sein, oder wenn der Mensch sie nicht korrekt verarbeiten kann, kommt es zu drastischen emotionalen...

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