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Book Review : Asian medicine and globalization

Medical History
Cambridge University Press
Publication Date
  • Book Reviews
  • Medicine


Given that medical traditions are intrinsically dynamic and open to innovation, as scholars have recognized since at least the time of Charles Leslie's classic Asian medical systems (1976), nationalist categories of medicine are to a great extent, artificial. To use the term “western medicine” requires the qualification that there is nothing specifically “western” about it, and that its development may equally derive from people or initiatives in the “east”, or indeed the “north” or “south”. Similarly, terms such as “Chinese medicine”, or “Tibetan medicine” may be convenient and in themselves both indicators of and factors in the systemization of various regional traditions and practices, but they are far from historical. What is now Tibetan medicine, for example, is a systemized development of a variety of practices and understandings primarily deriving from the élite textual tradition of sowa rigpa (“the science of healing”), a branch of Himalayan Buddhist learning within which might be isolated not only indigenous traditions and practices but also those of India, China, Persia, and even Greece. Terms such as “Chinese” or “Tibetan” medicine were not indigenous, but derive from European classifications, albeit suited to the interests of, and rapidly adopted by, those nationalist interests. Given the artificiality of such constructions, and the implicit and often explicit claims of virtually all medical systems to universal validity, a tension arises between national and transnational conceptions of regional medical systems. This volume seeks to explore the issues arising from that tension in the context of the globalization process, as (“western”) biomedicine is indigenized in Asia and Asian medical systems and related practices such as yoga are adopted in the west. The majority of the articles thus examine the character of “national” traditions in exile, and the transformative effects of medical encounters with other cultures, understandings, and laws. Alter's own critical introduction should be re

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