Ideas and practices of healing in traditional China

This course is not offered for study in the current academic year.

Course description

This course introduces ideas and practices of healing in Traditional China through a critical exploration of Chinese medical culture in its dynamic formation and transformation. The course seeks to enhance students’ interests in Chinese civilization from intellectually challenging angles and enriches students’ knowledge of key ideas and methods of healing in medical sciences, philosophy, religion, and literature.

It also engages them in cross-cultural inquiry by contrasting or connecting Chinese with Western medical cultures. In light of influential holistic theories in Traditional Chinese medicine, such as “陰陽五行” (Yin-Yang and five elements), “天人相應” (correlation between man and nature), “原氣論” Qi (vital energy) and “藥食同源” (the same origin of herbs and food), a number of key concepts in Chinese medical culture will be explained. Comparison of Chinese medicine with Western medicine will be involved.

There will also be debates on controversial cases to stimulate student discussion. First-hand experience of Chinese medical culture will be demonstrated with student participation and a cross-cultural discussion on the vital interactions between Chinese and Western medical traditions will be held in the class.

Course learning outcomes

On completing the course, you will be able to:

  • Explain key concepts in Chinese medical culture and the historical contexts behind the ideas and practices being discussed.
  • Describe, experience, and analyze ideas of holism and “same origin of herbs and food” that influence Chinese ways of life from past to present.
  • Compare different origins of Chinese and Western medicine and evaluate advantages and limitations of traditional Chinese medical culture.
  • Apply knowledge learnt to appreciate and critically reflect on the issues and challenges in twenty-first-century Chinese culture.

Study load

ActivitiesNumber of Hours
Fieldwork / Visits10
Reading / Self-study58
Assessment: Presentation (incl preparation)8
Assessment: Essay / Reflective writing40


Short essays40%
Field trip (and reflective writing)15%

Required reading

Choa, G. H. (1990). “Heal the sick” was their motto: The Protestant medical missionaries in China. Hong Kong: Chinese University Press. [Chaps. 2, 3, 4]

Karyn, K. L. (2008). An introduction to Chinese philosophy. Cambridge, UK; New York: Cambridge University Press. [pp. 26-47]

Unschuld, P. U. (2009). What is medicine? : Western and Eastern approaches to healing. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. [pp. 32-36, 42-50]


Recommended reading

Balme, H. (1921). China and modern medicine: A study in medical missionary development. London: United Council for Missionary Education.

Karchmer, E. I. (2004). Orientalizing the body: Postcolonial transformations inChinese medicine. Doctoral thesis. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Sheikh, A. A., & Sheikh, K. S. (Eds.). (1989). Eastern and western approaches to healing: Ancient wisdom and modern knowledge. New York: Wiley.

Ye, L., & Zhu, L. (2008). Insights into Chinese culture. Beijing: Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press.

Zhang, D. (2002). Key concepts in Chinese philosophy. (E. Ryden, Ed. & Trans.). New Haven, CT; London: Yale University Press.

Wang, Z., Chen, P. & Xie, P. (1999). History and development of traditional Chinese medicine. Beijing: Science Press; Amsterdam: IOS Press; Tokyo: Ohmsha. [pp. 34-93]

童瑤主編. (2009). 《中西醫五臟比較研究》. 香港: 香港商務印書館.

張其成主編. (2009). 《中國傳統文化概論》. 北京: 人民衛生出版社.

Course co-ordinator and teachers

Student view

This course allowed me to learn much more about the history and development of my home, Hong Kong.

-Edwin Wong, 1st year in BNurs student