This article analyzes the history and development of Tibetan medicine in exile from the perspective of the pervasive Tibetan exile narrative of preservation and loss. Through combined ethnographic and historical data, it shows how the preservation of traditional Tibetan medical knowledge in exile entails a process of a fundamental reinvention of its nature, not only rendering it modern but also (re)investing it with considerable hegemonic power. As Tibetan medicine in exile has come to stand for the nation as envisioned by the Tibetan government-in-exile, its preservation is imbued with a significance that far exceeds the medical realm. Indeed, despite a well-established discourse of preservation and loss that implies a precarious state of weakness, Tibetan medical knowledge functions (along with Tibetan Buddhism) as an important means to preserve a weakened but still existing and real Tibetan cultural hegemony in exile. Thus, while common rhetoric assumes a triumph of modern science and a gradual loss of traditional knowledge, the case of Tibetan medicine shows that we need to take the latter seriously as an important apparatus of power even today.
The Politics of Preservation and Loss: Tibetan Medical Knowledge in Exile
Stephan Kloos holds a PhD in medical anthropology from the University of California, San Francisco and Berkeley and has over fifteen years of research experience on Tibetan medicine and nationalism. He currently leads a Starting Grant Project from the European Research Council (ERC) at the Institute for Social Anthropology, Austrian Academy of Sciences, on the emergence of a transnational Sowa Rigpa pharmaceutical industry in Asia (RATIMED). For more information, see www.stephankloos.org and www.ratimed.net.