Healing and Heritage: Sorting out Ethnic Traditional Medicine in China

Collaborative Group

Professor Judith Farquhar, Dr. Lili Lai




The traditional medical systems of China’s 55 recognized minority nationalities are emerging as an important arena of research for the nation’s public health and social science experts. This collaboration thus links two rich topics: the heritage cultures of China’s minority nationalities and the rise of medical diversities in the modern world. At this conjuncture, a dynamic form of knowledge production and health service development is beginning to take shape. Working from small research agencies in China’s southwest, this ethnographic study explores the cultures of folk healing that at present still escape the formal health sector even as they are being “discovered” by social research; at the same time the research focuses on the structure and practice of the state-led surveys that seek to “salvage and sort” ethnicities and medicines. Training and working alongside local researchers at seven “minority” sites, the collaborators contribute to understanding how knowledge and culture are produced, both in transnational flows of information and under the regulation of modern states. They draw on their previous research on the historical development of traditional medical institutions and forms of knowledge in China; they have worked together before on training workshops for lay anthropologists and on similar research for a project that will lead to an edited volume of field memoirs in Chinese by local researchers that will be an intervention in anthropological writing in China. The collaboration will result in a co-authored book combining ethnography and science studies as well as a variety of articles with each other and local researchers in Chinese and English. Award period: July 1, 2012 – June 30, 2013