Research Methodology for the History of Traditional Asian Medicine
It was after reading Vandana Shiva's Biopiracy, the Plunder of Nature and Knowledge that I became conscious of the intricate connection between modern civilization and the natural environment. This book is a clarion call, warning that the advanced nations are using, in the name of globalization, the acquisition of patents and genetic engineering as new weapons, enclosing indigenous and local knowledge and even life itself in a new version of colonialization.
In counterpoint to the exploitation of resources by western countries,
there is a movement within non-western nations to protect various types of "specialized
local knowledge" as ethnic property, as part of an effort to maintain
national self-identity. Such knowledge spans cultural forms, such as music
but if we extend this to the bio-sciences, to seeds and
genes from which even greater
profits might be anticipated, there is a danger that any part of traditional
knowledge that has been judged to have a use potential might become "enclosed" by
In the nineteenth century, when traditional Asian medicine was
overshadowed by modern science, traditional knowledge and technology
in the field of medicine survived at a folk level though it was judged
to be "superstition".
This was because on the one hand medicine is an empirical science, and on the
other, it was preserved by means of nationalism. By the end of the
twentieth century, however, traditional medicine had drawn the world's
gaze as an alternative medicine that supplemented the weaknesses of
modern medicine. This can be contributed to a rise in the social standing
The problem is that modern scientific medicine is not a single
construct based on many different systems, but the yardstick by which
other medical systems are evaluated. Based on western history and culture,
scientific medicine occupies an unassailable position as the peak of
achievement in history. Thus, if we construct a developmental theory
of the history of medicine, all its diverse strands somehow have to
be merged into scientific medicine. This is the difficulty we face
when writing the history of traditional medicine from non-western countries.
However, this is an argument belonging to the advanced nations,
a values system belonging to a culture which situates life as the subject
of development. It is important to study this type of cultural history
but there is something fruitless here when it comes to acknowledging
actual conditions (China gives the impression of aiming at such a culture).
There are many things that fall into the catch-all of "old" as
defined by modern science. We need to save them from obscurity.
England is one country which mobilized science systematically
to serve imperialism. At the same time (or perhaps as a result), it
has a rich research history on this topic. When we visit the Kew Gardens,
the mecca of plant hunters, and the Eden Project, a new way of applying
nature, we can understand the way in which the English relate to nature.
The Eden Project, for example, stresses the importance of coexistence
with nature, yet all mystery has been excluded for the sake of scientific
understanding, and it presents nature rather like a dramatic performance.
At the Science Museum in London, there is an exhibition reflecting
on the scientific achievements of twenty or thirty years ago. This
too implies that modern scientific developments
should be understand in historical terms.
The Wellcome Library in London is a world centre for the study
of the history of medical treatment. Its parent body, the Wellcome
Trust, is a charity which funds research to raise health standards
all over the world, and it has provided the funding to set up research
centres at London University and the University of Oxford. The Wellcome
Library possesses an enormous collection of books and manuscripts on
the history of medicine and it works to encourage research into that
history by providing various services and by constructing a data base.
Its rich collection of books is basically stored in open stacks and
researchers can use them freely. Archives and manuscripts can be consulted
in the reading room and advice is available. What is particularly useful
is that the historical materials are catalogued according to theme,
such as "Malaria",
Henry Wellcome (1853-1936), who founded the Wellcome Trust, was
an avid collector of medical artifacts from all over the world and
he established a museum to display them in. In his collection can be
found a wide range of materials from Asia and Africa, from masks to
dolls used for magic, and they have a certain flavour of orientalism.
In terms of modern research into the history of medicine, looking at
medicine as culture, Asian traditional medicine has here become objectified.
However, to the extent it is evaluated as being something different from
western culture, there is little possibility of it moving into the
mainstream of medical history. At the research level, too, there is
very little interaction and exchange
of the history of traditional medicine and those of the history of modern
Wu Liande (1879-1960), well-known for his contributions to
infectious disease prevention and to the spread of hygiene in modern
China, published, together with Wang Jimin, the "History of Chinese
Medicine" (Shanghai, 1932).
This work was not concerned just with "the history of traditional
medicine" or with "the
history of the development of modern medicine". Rather it is a history
of how medicine spread in China, from both points of view. Overall, a
larger amount of space was given originally to the introduction of modern
medicine, but in the second edition, the work was largely revised, centring
on China and things Chinese, as a history of the development of the Chinese
people. The number of chapters dealing with the history
of traditional medicine increased from 21 in the first edition to 26
in the second. Incidentally, according to the publications by Wu in the
Wellcome Library, he donated his collection of works on Chinese medicine
to the Wellcome Museum in 1916, and in 1920 requested the Museum to accept
the photographs he used in his works. Here we find
a page in the history of scholarly cooperation between China and the
Joseph Needham (1900-1995), a leading authority on the history
of science in Asia, highly evaluated early developments in Chinese
medicine but he looked at its later history in terms of a single line
of development. Later, its inherent charactersitics and its varied
origins were stressed from an anthropological point of view. An example
of work by an anthropologist are the two volumes edited by Charles
Leslie and published in the 1970s called "Asian Medical Systems" and "Paths
to Asian Medical Knowledge". These positioned medicine as a cultural
activity, and took the stance that it was necessary to analyse traditional
Asian medicine in terms of history, culture, society and epistemology.
At the present time, traditional Asian medical practices such
as Chinese medicine, Ayurveda and Tibetan medicine have spread around
the world, and today, with the globalization of traditional medicine,
its research can be said to have taken on a new direction. As I have
mentioned already, as traditional medicine is increasingly institutionalized,
research into its relationship with public health, management systems
and non-governmental organizations has become vital. The International
Association for the Study of Traditional Asian Medicine (IASTAM) has
been formed out
In terms of inherent characteristics in the context of traditional
medicine, local geographic aspects are an important key to understanding.
Human health consists of a variety of elements, including social and
natural factors, as well as those associated with the individual organism.
Endemic diseases are those peculiar to a particular locality, and cannot
be understood without a comprehensive knowledge of that locality. Medical
geography is that branch of learning which deals with medical phenomena
such as epidemics, hygiene and health in association with a particular
locality. Biometerorology is also attracting much attention for its
multi-faceted examination of the influence that climate exerts on health.
Unlike recent medicine, which has perhaps placed too much emphasis
on the small scale, we can perceive a movement to
Certain fields of learning have regarded the interworking
between nature and human beings (as living beings) to be very important.
For example, ideas of Yin and Yang and the five elements have had a
great influence on traditional Chinese thought, while in Japan, modern
meteorology had to surmount the influence of the Yin-Yang theory to
develop. This fact in itself is worthy of socio-historical research.
Early in the modern period, when science began permeating Asia, friction
grew up at various levels between it and traditional science. This
is shown by the fact that there were great