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Traditional Chinese Medicine: Heritage and Adaptation

by Paul Unschuld Columbia University Press
Pub Date:
Pbk 184 pages
AU$38.99 NZ$40.86
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A leading authority explains the origins and history of Chinese medicine from its beginnings in antiquity to today. Paul U. Unschuld describes medicine's close connection with culture and politics throughout Chinese history. He brings together texts, techniques, and worldviews to understand changing Chinese attitudes toward healing and the significance of traditional Chinese medicine in both China and the Western world.


Unschuld reveals the emergence of a Chinese medical tradition built around a new understanding of the human being, considering beliefs in the influence of cosmology, numerology, and the supernatural on the health of the living. He describes the variety of therapeutic approaches in Chinese culture, the history of pharmacology and techniques such as acupuncture, and the global exchange of medical knowledge. Insights are offered into the twentieth-century decline of traditional medicine, as military defeats caused reformers and revolutionaries to import medical knowledge as part of the construction of a new China. Unschuld also recounts the reception of traditional Chinese medicine in the West since the 1970s, where it is often considered an alternative to Western medicine at the same time as China seeks to incorporate elements of its medical traditions into a scientific framework. This concise and compelling introduction to medical thought and history suggests that Chinese medicine is also a guide to Chinese civilization.

Preface to the English Edition


Part I: The Historical Foundations

1. Origins and Characteristics of Chinese Medicine

2. The Lack of Existential Autonomy

3. The Longing for Existential Autonomy

4. Quotations from the Medical Classics

5. The Banality of Violence

6. The Mawangdui Texts

7. Anatomy, Physiology, and Pathology in the New Medicine

8. Deficiencies in the Credibility of the New Medicine

9. The Alternative Model: The View from Illness

10. Radical Healing: Life as a Form of Disease

11. Between Antiquity and the Modern Age

12. Two Medical Authors of the Ming and Qing Dynasties

Part II: Modern and Contemporary Times

13. The Confrontation with the Western Way of Life

14. The Persuasiveness of Western Medicine

15. The Opinions of Intellectuals and Politicians

16. The Selection

17. The Surprise

18. The Creative Reception of Chinese Medicine in the West

19. The Objectification of the Discussion: Opportunity and Challenge





This small volume by one of the most distinguished living historians of traditional Chinese medicine is a tour de force of specialist knowledge. Victor H. Mair, University of Pennsylvania

Paul U. Unschuld is the director of the Horst-Goertz-Institute for the Theory, History, and Ethics of Chinese Life Sciences, Charité-Universitaetsmedizin Berlin. His books include What Is Medicine? Western and Eastern Approaches to Healing (2009) and The Fall and Rise of China: Healing the Trauma of History (2013).