In the epilogue, the argument is made against an essentialist model of illness. But again, this is an argument that has been made for many decades. More disconcert- ing, the authors state that anthropologists take Western scientific epistemologies as the “true concept of reality” (p. 185). Al- though indeed there may be some medical anthropologists who do so, many have ques- tioned and critiqued scientific and medical “truths.” Nonetheless, the epilogue argues correctly that people do not think in mutu- ally exclusive categories but in many differ- ent modes.
Although some chapters may have their shortcomings, most of the chapters— especially the ethnographic case studies— are worth reading. They will be of interest
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to students, especially those who are not yet too familiar with the anthropological lit- erature on biomedicine’s relationship with other healing modalities.
Transforming Emotions with Chinese Medicine: An Ethnographic Account from Contemporary China. Yanhua Zhang. Al- bany: State University of New York Press, 2007, xiv + 191 pp.
Judith Farquhar Department of Anthropology University of Chicago
Anyone who has conducted research on traditional Chinese medicine is aware of the Frequently Asked Questions: Is Chinese medicine effective? What is its spiritual mes- sage? How does Chinese medicine under- stand and treat psychological disorders? Of these, the third is perhaps the hardest to an- swer.
Yanhua Zhang’s new book splendidly solves the problem. In the process of metic- ulously explaining what emotions mean and why they matter in the therapeutic and discursive world of Chinese medicine, she also addresses, very usefully, a number of broader questions in medical, cultural, and linguistic anthropology.
It is tempting, when trying to explain why “psychology” and even “the emotions” are not a simple or obvious topic for Chinese medical experts, to overstress the “holism” of the field. One can insist that Chinese medicine (or classical metaphysics, aesthet- ics, etc.) makes no distinction between mind and body, spirit and flesh, suggesting that the entire “Western” tradition of coping with emotional disorders is a foreign im- position. Such a strategy, however, makes too facile an East–West contrast and smacks of Orientalism. A reduction of human life to holistic principles like “the harmony of heaven and man” or the “interconnection of all the body’s organs” risks losing touch with a great deal of Chinese thinking about the most subtle aspects of human experi- ence. In fact, Chinese medicine can tell us
much about the relationships between vital processes and experiences of insight, pas- sion, and thought.
In appreciation of the foregoing, Zhang is very careful to avoid metaphysical overgen- eralizations, providing instead a nuanced exploration of modern Chinese emotional life as it takes form in the clinics of tradi- tional Chinese doctors. She conveys an un- derstanding of the particularity of a Chinese world of experience while offering a fecund vocabulary for experience. Her discussion of the word jingshen, usually translated as “spirit,” for example, leads us to an under- standing of both its components as referring first to vitality, so the compound concept helps us understand a “Chinese conceptu- alization of life.” Observable qualities of a person such as responsiveness, a good mem- ory, an interest in others, and willingness to talk all contribute to a clinical sense of healthy jingshen. A Chinese medical vision invites us to see “spirit” as “spiritedness,” not as an essence or a magical vapor but as a refined form of vital activity. By shifting the terms in which we imagine embodied human experience itself, this book reveals much about the practical relations among discourse, knowledge, embodiment, and experience.
Zhang bases her ethnography on careful study of training and professional discourse in contemporary Chinese medicine, on a thorough understanding of Chinese moder- nity in all its hybrid complexity, and on sys- tematic field research in clinics of Chinese medicine. Chapter 1 introduces the ambi- tions of the book by orienting the project in relation to recent medical anthropology, anthropology of embodiment, and Chinese studies. Chapter 2 provides historical back- ground for understanding contemporary Chinese medicine. Although the chapter is too brief to incorporate all the valuable find- ings by recent historians of 19th- and 20th- century medicine in China, in it Zhang does succeed in showing some of the complex- ity and internal differences in the field that only came to be organized and called “Chi- nese medicine” (zhongyi) during the last 100 years. She also provides an interesting
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discussion of the kind of knowledge that is translated as medical “theory” (lilun).
Chapter 3 grapples with keywords of Chinese medicine related to embodiment. Zhang’s sensitive approach to interpret- ing the “semantic networks” of terms like shenti (body–person), xin (heart–mind) and nao (brain), tong (flowing and connect- ing), du (position, moderation), and he (har- mony) is essential for understanding the ethnographic findings of this study. This chapter and chapters 4 (on qingzhi, the emotions) and 7 (conversation analysis of clinical encounters) demonstrate magnifi- cently the contribution a linguistic anthro- pology can make to medical anthropology and embodiment studies. Zhang, writing as both linguist and as native speaker, shows how ordinary usage of language produces culture-specific objects that take on consid- erable importance in everyday life and ex- perience. Her elucidation of these objects or terms goes beyond the task of translation. It poses for Anglophone readers a world of novel causes and effects (esp. evident in ch. 6, where Zhang discusses stagnation), and it shows us fresh terrains and temporalities. Zhang’s research proves that the nature of both the self and its environment are up for negotiation in the clinical encounter. This is, of course, true of many kinds of heal- ing relationships, but medical anthropology has not always addressed the productivity of clinical work at such a deep level as Zhang reveals in this book.
Throughout Transforming Emotions with Chinese Medicine, Zhang illustrates her findings about Chinese medicine with case vignettes drawn from her work in clinics. As traces of troubled lives and examples of therapeutic strategies, these stories render the abstruse principles of Chinese medicine and the methods of its practitioners much more accessible to outsiders. The relationships between com- mon sense, mundane practice, and medical theory are not always easy to reveal; in doing so with well-chosen examples, Zhang has unpretentiously shown that China’s great tradition, in all its philosophical com-
plexity, still speaks in everyday embodied experience.
Some of the material Zhang analyzes is quite technical, and for some readers her presentation of the deeper ideas in Chinese medicine will be slow going. Errors in some tables and other evidence of the publisher’s copyediting laxity may aggravate the read- ing process. Careful attention to Zhang’s rigorous and accurate translation and com- mentary is very much warranted, however. It would be a great pity if Transforming Emotions with Chinese Medicine were only read by the small community of Chinese medicine scholars. The book has much to teach medical and cultural anthropology; it is a study that begs for analysis in class- rooms. This is a very courageous book, in- sisting on the uniqueness, power, and rele- vance of a Chinese medical approach to the passions. It repays careful reading, whether readers have anthropological, historical, or personal ends.
Gender, Race, Class, and Health: Intersec- tional Approaches. Amy J. Schulz and Leith Mullings, eds. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2007. xx + 423 pp.