Health, Medicine and the Body in East Asia - TH653

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Module delivery information

Location Term Level1 Credits (ECTS)2 Current Convenor3 2020 to 2021
Autumn 6 30 (15) DR L De Vries checkmark-circle


Traditional Chinese Medicine and other forms East Asian medicine have become available to patients everywhere in the world as Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM), but their cultural backgrounds are mostly misunderstood by patients, providers and adversaries. This module explores the historical emergence of East Asian medical systems, their relations to philosophical and religious worldviews and practices, their trajectories from the East to the West, and their relations, interactions and clashes with bio-medicine.

In this module, we read passages from foundational literature such as the Inner Classic of the Yellow Emperor (in English translation) and discuss key texts in which Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese doctors argue about the nature of health and medical ethics. We also compare different views of the body, illnesses and therapeutic intervention, and examine the importance of "tradition" in East Asian medicine, Early Modern exchanges with Western medicine and the transformation and globalisation of East Asian medical systems in the twentieth and twenty-first century. Applying comparative and genealogical methods, we discuss East Asian medicines in terms of efficacy, culture, politics and economics and reflect on healthcare, in general, from (multi)cultural perspectives.


This module appears in the following module collections.

Contact hours

Total Contact Hours: 40

Method of assessment

Presentation (15 minutes) – 10%
Annotated Bibliography (1,500 words) – 15%
Essay (2,500 words) – 25%
Examination (3 hours) – 50%

Indicative reading

Indicative Reading List

Barnes, L. (2007), Needles, Herbs, Gods, and Ghosts: China, Healing, and the West to 1848, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Elman, B. (2005) On Their Own terms: Science in China 1550-1900, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Hinrichs, TJ & L Barnes (eds) (2013) Chinese Medicine and Healing: An Illustrated History, Harvard and London: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
Kuriyama, S. (1999) The Expressiveness of the Body and the Divergence of Greek and Chinese Medicine, Cambridge, MA and London: Zone Books.
Lei, S. (2014) Neither Donkey Nor Horse: Medicine in the Struggle of China's Modernity, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Salguero, C.P. (2017) Buddhism and Medicine: An Anthology of Premodern Sources. New York: Columbia University Press.
Unschuld, Paul U. (2009) What is Medicine? Western and Eastern Approaches to Healing, Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press.

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

On successfully completing the module students will be able to:

Demonstrate an in-depth and systematic understanding of traditional East Asian (Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese) views on health, medicine and the body;
Describe and critically analyse a key concept, idea, theme or practice in traditional East Asian medicine;
Demonstrate a critical understanding of various forms of East Asian medicine, historical encounters between East Asian and Western medicine, and modernising processes of East Asian medicine in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries;
Make systematic cross-cultural comparisons between East Asian and Western views on health, medicine and the body, based on the textual analysis of primary sources (in English translation) and a critical engagement with secondary literature in the fields of history and medical anthropology.


  1. Credit level 6. Higher level module usually taken in Stage 3 of an undergraduate degree.
  2. ECTS credits are recognised throughout the EU and allow you to transfer credit easily from one university to another.
  3. The named convenor is the convenor for the current academic session.
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