Mix ’n’ match

Roy Porter

  • The Essential Book of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Vol. I: Theory by Liu Yanchi, translated by Fang Tingyu and Chen Laidi
    Columbia, 305 pp, $40.00, April 1988, ISBN 0 231 06196 X
  • The Essential Book of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Vol. II: Clinical Practice by Liu Yanchi, translated by Fang Tingyu and Chen Laidi
    Columbia, 479 pp, £80.00, April 1988, ISBN 0 231 06518 3
  • Traditional Medicine in Contemporary China by Nathan Sivin
    University of Michigan Centre for Chinese Studies, 549 pp, $22.50, September 1987, ISBN 0 89264 073 1

The more people feel that modern medicine has let them down, or at least has failed to live up to its own exalted expectations, the more alluring the prospect of looking to China as an alternative source of medical theory and practice. After all, China offers one of the very few medical traditions which continue to hold their own in the face of the hegemony of the Western medical model. Its attractions to anyone with a mind for alternative medicine are many and powerful. It is holistic through and through, and oriented upon health no less than disease. The whole body is more than the sum of its chemistry or mechanics, and so sickness is not to be understood in terms of the pathology of isolated organs considered as cogs in a machine, but rather as the disfunction of a normally harmonious, complete living entity. Hence healing requires the care of body and mind, indeed a grasp of the sway of emotion and of the dynamic interplay of the whole person with the wider sociophysical environment.

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