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Nationality Medicines in China: Institutional Rationality and Healing Charisma

  • Lili Lai (a1) and Judith Farquhar (a2)

This article describes emergent Chinese regimes of knowledge about “minority nationality medicines.” We adopt Weberian terms of rational and charismatic authority to better understand ethnic healing as it is developing among minorities in southwestern China. In the course of uneven development among diverse ethnic groups over recent decades, modern information regimes and institutional models have started to transform the many forms of healing and heritage that can be found “on the ground” in minority areas. We delineate a shifting border between official (or rational) and wild (or charismatic) forms of medicine, and argue that every healing situation results from a dynamic and sometimes destructive relation between these forms of authority. We draw from research conducted among seven minority nationalities scattered in five provinces in China's south and southwest. After an overview of relevant scholarly work that circulates nationally, we discuss views and practices of three healers belonging to Zhuang, Tujia, and Yao groups, respectively. Ultimately we suggest that all healing, including that taking place in biomedical clinics, relies on some contact with “the wild,” and forges a relationship between rationality and charisma.

Corresponding author
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Judith Farquhar . 2002. Appetites: Food and Sex in Postsocialist China. Durham: Duke University Press.

Elisabeth Hsu . 1999. The Transmission of Chinese Medicine. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Carla Nappi . 2009. The Monkey and the Inkpot: Natural History and Its Transformations in Early Modern China. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Volker Scheid . 2002. Chinese Medicine in Contemporary China: Plurality and Synthesis. Durham: Duke University Press.

Kaushik Sunder Rajan . 2006. Biocapital: The Constitution of Postgenomic Life. Durham: Duke University Press.

Kim Taylor . 2005. Chinese Medicine in Early Communist China, 1945–1963: A Medicine of Revolution. New York: Routledge Curzon.

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Comparative Studies in Society and History
  • ISSN: 0010-4175
  • EISSN: 1475-2999
  • URL: /core/journals/comparative-studies-in-society-and-history
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