This article shows how a newly “salvaged” and “sorted” minority nationality medicine is being rendered as information, while attending to the dynamic emergence of new knowledge. After providing some historical background for the ethnic medicines movement and its Chinese character, we introduce Zhuang nationality medicine. First we consult two leading scholars of Zhuang medicine about history and theory, then turn to the informational and practical character of the medical textbooks they have collaboratively published. Turning then to our recent field research in Guangxi with Zhuang medicine experts, we puzzle over several instances of collecting and deploying information about a Zhuang medicine that is still hard to pin down. Contemplating the relatively short history of Zhuang medicine as a system, we ask questions about knowledge: What kinds of “wild” knowledge have been “salvaged” and “sorted” in the informationalizing process? What “traditional” knowledge has been put in the shade, what elements are brought to light, and where are people finding novelty and surprises? Though information narrows and disciplines a healing tradition, reducing and standardizing knowledge into communicable parts and ordered wholes, it also brings an added power to medical work through its publicity and practical dissemination. Asking what new worlds are emerging from modern epistemological disciplines, then, we bear witness to the creative syntheses that are put into play in the lives of healers and patients. We also note the emergence of a valorized wildness and excess inherent to practice, glimpsing in fragments a differently structured other to the formal knowledge or information that would tame healing knowledge for well-regulated use.
Information and Its Practical Other: Crafting Zhuang Nationality Medicine
Judith Farquhar is Max Palevsky Professor in the Department of Anthropology of the University of Chicago. Her research on contemporary China spans three decades, focusing on theories and practices of modern traditional Chinese medicine; everyday life and embodiment; popular culture and media; post-Mao and postsocialist micropolitics; and, most recently, national movements to systematize the traditional medicine practices of China's ethnic minorities. She is the author of Knowing Practice: The Clinical Encounter of Chinese Medicine (1994); Appetites: Food and Sex in Post-socialist China (2004); and Ten Thousand Things: Nurturing Life in Contemporary Beijing (2012).
Lili Lai teaches anthropology at the Institute of Medical Humanities of Peking University, China. She is author of “Immanent Sociality: Open-ended Belonging,” published in Theory and Event 16 (2013), and “Everyday Hygiene in Rural Henan,” forthcoming in a special issue of Positions: Asia Critique, which she is guest editing, titled “The Local Intimacies of China's Rural-Urban Divide,” scheduled for publication in 2014. She is also coauthoring another article with Judith Farquhar on their ongoing research, titled “Salvaging and Sorting Out Minority Nationality Medicines in Contemporary China,” in press in Comparative Studies in Society and History.