The discourse on alternative medicine assumes that medical practices exist as distinctive medical systems that compete with each other in plural health care systems. Anthropological and historical research clearly demonstrates, however, that this is not so. Many so-called traditional medicines are revealed as inventions of distinctly modern regimes of knowledge and institutional practice, while the political needs of healers and the epistemological desires of researchers converge in the construction of distinctive medical practices for description, classification, and comparison. This article draws on genealogy as a possible way out of this impasse. It shows how different generations of physicians of Chinese medicine employed the same four core concepts to reflect on their practice, imbuing them with ever new meanings to relate them to the changing demands of clinical and political practice. Examining these core concepts reveals something about the essence of Chinese medicine without reducing our analysis to a misguided search for cultural essences.
(Reprinted by permission of Sage Publications Ltd from Scheid, Volker, Remodeling the arsenal of Chinese medicine: shared pasts, alternative futures. Â© 2003 American College of Medical Quality)