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The Medical Missionary’s Changing Conceptions of Traditional Chinese Medicine 1

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Chinese medicine and Western medicine first met when Western missionaries came to China in the late Ming and early Qing period. Initially, they regarded the two types of medicine as almost equals, but gradually their evaluation of traditional Chinese medicine became more negative. After the Opium War, with the establishment of missionary hospitals, Western medical missionaries commonly criticized the theories of Chinese medicine, denigrated its practitioners and questioned its value. However, after the founding of Republic of China, the emergence of medical schools in Christian universities provided favorable conditions for the in-depth study of traditional Chinese medicine; at the same time, the fact that Western trained Chinese medical men in China were providing an introduction to traditional Chinese medicine corrected many of the missionaries’ misinterpretations of its canonical texts. In particular, some medical missionaries who had worked together with practitioners of Chinese medicine for many years began to take a “sympathetic view” of the theories and clinical experience of traditional Chinese medicine and the value of its pharmacopeia, thus pioneering Western understanding and use of traditional Chinese medicine. Résumé Le premier face à face entre la médecine chinoise et occidentale eut lieu lorsque des missionnaires occidentaux arrivèrent en Chine entre la période tardive de l’ère Ming et la période précoce de l’ère Qing. Au départ, les missionnaires considéraient les deux types de médecines comme étant quasiment égaux, mais leur évaluation de la médecine chinoise devint de plus en plus négative avec le temps. Apres la guerre de l’Opium et l’établissement d’hôpitaux missionnaires, les médecins missionnaires occidentaux commencèrent à critiquer régulièrement les théories de la médecine chinoise, dénigrant ses praticiens et mettant en doute sa valeur. Toutefois l’émergence d’écoles de médecine dans les universités chrétiennes après la fondation de la République de Chine créa un contexte favorable à l’étude en profondeur de la médecine chinoise ; et le fait que le personnel médical occidental en Chine commença du coup à donner des cours d’introduction à la médecine chinoise permit de corriger les erreurs que les missionnaires commettaient quant à l’interprétation de ses textes canoniques. En particulier, certains missionnaires de la santé, qui avaient travaillé pendant de nombreuses années avec des praticiens de la médecine chinoise, commencèrent à développer une « approche bienveillante » en relation aux théories et pratiques cliniques de la médecine chinoise ainsi qu’à donner de la valeur à sa pharmacopée, innovant ainsi la compréhension et l’usage européen de la médecine traditionnelle chinoise.

Affiliations: 1: Professor of History and Director of the Center for Studies of Religion and Chinese Society Shanghai University, China


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