Curing the chinese: medicine and society in modern China

Offer semester
2nd semester

Lecture time
Wednesday 14:30 - 16:20

Lecture venue

Course description

Being healthy is a fundamental human desire. But different cultures have different understandings of the body and employ a wide variety of methods for curing ill-health. Consequently, the history of medicine provides an important avenue for deepening our understanding of global diversity and cross-cultural interactions.

Since the 19th century, both Western medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine have played important roles in curing the Chinese. This course focuses on the social, cultural and political contexts underpinning the transmission of Western medicine and the transformations of Traditional Chinese Medicine from the early 19th century to the present.

The course draws upon materials and experiences that prompt interdisciplinary inquiry such as: fiction, videos, posters, photos, as well as field trips. Beneath the overarching theme of cross-cultural interactions in the realm of medicine and health, the core problems explored in the course are:

  1. Challenging the idea that China was an isolated empire and reluctant to interact with the outside world.
  2. Exploring the idea that scientific knowledge domains like medicine are objective and value-free.
  3. Examining the capacity of human societies to adopt new ideas and assimilate them to fit local conditions.

Course learning outcomes

On completing the course, you will be able to:

  • Effectively communicate the cultural and medical exchanges between China and the West.
  • Demonstrate an understanding of how medical practice is embedded in cultural values.
  • Demonstrate the capacity to analyze how medical institutions are transformed by political contexts and the consequential influence on the perception of the body and health.
  • Apply the basic concepts and theoretical perspectives to analyze how global knowledge is practised differently in different local contexts.
  • Cooperate in groups to conduct field trips and to produce a presentation and demonstrate appropriate presentation skills.

Study load

ActivitiesNumber of Hours
Fieldwork / Visits4
Reading / Self-study30
Assessment: Essay / Report writing30
Assessment: Presentation (incl preparation)30
Assessment: End of term take-home test (incl preparation)10


Tutorial presentation and participation30%
Short essay20%
Reflective journal20%
End of term take-home test30%

Required reading

Croizier, R. (1968). Traditional medicine in modern China: Science, nationalism, and the tensions of cultural change. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Flohr, C. (1996). The plague fighter: Wu Lien-teh and the beginning of the Chinese public health system. Annals of Science, 53(4), 361‐380.

Wong, K. C., & Wu, L. (1932). History of Chinese medicine: Being a chronicle of medical happenings in China from ancient times to the present period. Tianjin: Tianjin Press.

Recommended reading

Kleinman, A., & Watson, J. L. (Eds.). (2006). SARS in China: Prelude to pandemic? Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Scheid, V. (2002). Chinese medicine in contemporary China: Plurality and synthesis. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Unschuld, P. U. (1985). Medicine in China: A history of ideas. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Course co-ordinator and teachers