National and local projects to systematize ethnic or “nationality” medical systems are well underway in many parts of China. With colleagues in the China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences, and in collaboration with scholars associated with various nationalities, we have undertaken the task of editing a catalog of early texts in Chinese minority nationality medicine. We argue that it is both more efficient and more intellectually coherent for the central government, rather than local nationality agencies, to lead the process and coordinate the work of a number of collaborating researchers from various nationality traditions and several regions. Through such collaboration we seek to gather and preserve the most essential textual information. The ultimate aim is to systematize all resources in a unified database in which diversities can still be perceived. In this discussion we report some of the history of archiving and database construction with special reference to Tibetan and Uighur medical history. And we conclude by discussing some of the practical, conceptual, and technical challenges that face any such project to systematize traditional bodies of knowledge.

China is a multinational, multicultural country, and in China's thousands of years of history, all nationalities have enriched the nation's culture. In many instances, the creative activities of a people over a long period of time are recorded in each nationality's early texts. These documents are both knowledge products belonging to each nationality and a precious cultural heritage that can be shared by the Chinese people as a whole.

“Nationality medicine” (minzu yiyao) has become the general name for the traditional medical knowledge and practice of all the minority nationalities, or ethnic groups, in China. It is a general academic category and implies a working definition that views multiple types of medical knowledge as reflecting commonalities at some level (Zhu 2006). Rather than naming a homogeneous or unified theoretical medical system, however, “nationality medicine” is a general rubric that allows us to consider together the diverse traditional medical systems and experiences of many nationalities. Consequently, the term simultaneously reflects certain shared characteristics of disparate nationality medical knowledge systems and refers to the distinct nationality character embodied in each group's medical system. Though the definition, location, membership, and heritage of particular minority nationalities are historically difficult to settle once and for all, national and local projects to systematize ethnic medical systems, as we note below, are well under way in many parts of China.

With colleagues in the China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences, and in collaboration with scholars associated with various nationalities, we have undertaken the task of editing a catalog of early texts in Chinese nationality medicine. Our group believes that it is both more efficient and more intellectually coherent for the central government, rather than local nationality agencies, to lead the process and coordinate the work of a number of collaborating researchers from various nationality traditions and several regions. Throughout the process, we have relied on research institutions and researchers from twelve provinces and autonomous regions in central and western China, seeking to make the most of their expert knowledge of their own nationality's medical texts. It is only through such collaboration, we feel, that we can gather and preserve the most essential textual information. On the other hand, the catalog program's central office in Beijing also seeks to discover and clarify the shared characteristics of all nationality traditions, while sustaining careful attention to the varied features of each nationality's early medical texts. The ultimate aim is to systematize all resources in a unified database in which diversities can still be perceived. This “state-led” model's main advantage lies in that it both ensures the authoritative reliability of the catalog and, unlike any other compilation project, ensures the eventual completeness of the database.

We are medical historians working in a national research institute committed to medical and cultural plurality in China. Beginning in 1982 and continuing up to the present, the China Institute for History of Medicine and Medical Literature has labored to build an authoritative archive for all forms of medical knowledge in China, and with much advice from professional colleagues, its researchers have published significant scholarship on these textual materials. Examples are The Complete Book of Chinese Medicine Specialties, History of Medicine Volume (Li and Cheng 1987); Dictionary of Chinese Medicine Biography (Li and Cai 1988); Encyclopedia of Chinese Medicine (Li, Yu, and Cai 1995); Overview of Traditional Chinese Medicine (Chen and Cai 1997); Dictionary of Chinese Medical Literature (Yu and Li 2000); A GeneralHistory of Chinese Medicine (China Institute for History of Medicine and Medical Literature 2000); and Anthology of Classic Chinese Medical Works Returned from Abroad (Cao, Liu, and Zheng 2005). At the same time, on the basis of the already existing research units of medical history and medical literature, the institute has established allied research units for minority nationality medicines to advance terminological and reference works and to support the digitization of ancient books of Chinese medicine. Thus, we have pursued more thorough research on the literature and medical history of Chinese medicine and pharmacy and on nationality medicines, from a number of perspectives. This ever improving foundation of work has drawn from organized programs, research methods, and expert personnel to build a sound foundation for the future development of this archiving project. As we describe below, and as reflected in the projects listed above, the profession of the history of medicine in China is notable for its appreciation of epistemological, therapeutic, and scientific heterogeneity in the medical heritages of East Asia.

As we note in the historical discussion below, we and our current research colleagues, both in Beijing and in nationality areas, have been charged with salvaging (fajue 发掘) the extremely diverse medical heritage of our country's nationalities. Working against a tendency for precious documents to be sequestered in local cultural institutions or in private collections, available to only a few practitioners or scholars and sometimes stored under imperfect conditions, the academy's national collection and database projects seek to bring precious research and training materials to light and preserve them, eventually through the construction of a digital archive. Toward that end, the current projects focus on bibliographic databases that include careful annotations. This process of collation (zhengli 整理) necessarily seeks systematic consistency. In the process of achieving a rigorously consistent database, we encounter certain difficulties of both knowledge and value, some of which we highlight at the end of this discussion.

Recent Historical Background

Several key developments in nationality medicine have resulted from state policies on nationality medicine that began to be propagated on a national scale after the 1949 establishment of the People's Republic of China. As early as December 1951, the Work Plan for the Public Health of Minority Nationalities stated that “minority doctors employing herbs and folk medicine shall be brought together into groups and their work will be elevated to the greatest possible extent” (1 December 1951, unpublished data, unpaginated). This policy allowed “minority” medical practitioners to continue working informally, but it did not result in significant institutionalization of nationality medical groups at the time. During the 1960s and 1970s, local and ethnic medical practices tended to be thought of as “folk” (minjian 民间) medicine; such healing traditions were in use with greater or lesser degrees of publicity, but without official government recognition, in most areas. In the 1980s the state returned to the question of nationality medicines as such. Beginning in 1981, the government articulated a series of development objectives for the collation and editing of early nationality medical texts, and the state has tended to push the project ahead, with considerable grassroots participation, since that time.

Chinese government support for the collation of early nationality medical texts developed as follows. On 17 September 1981, the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party issued Directive 1981 (37), Directive of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party on the Collation and Editing of Early Chinese Texts.1 The directive declares, “To responsibly inherit and extend China's precious cultural heritage is a very important mission essential for the future of our descendants.” Li Yimang (nominated by Chen Yun, the vice premier) was appointed to direct this project. Other participants, who formed an Early Texts Collation and Publication planning project team directly under the State Council, included cadres from the Zhonghua Book Company, the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Education, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, and the General Administration of Press and Publication.

On 20 January 1982, Li Yimang published an article titled “On Early Texts and Their Collation” in People's Daily, in which he argued that “early texts in nationality languages, for instance, in Tibetan, Mongolian, Uighur, Tangut, and Khitan, all belong to the archive of Chinese early texts, by their very nature. They should all be collated and edited.” On 13 March in the same year, the State Council's Early Texts Collation and Publication team held its first conference. During the opening ceremony, Li Yimang reaffirmed the importance of the works of collation and editing of minority nationality literature.

On 19 April 1984, the General Office of the State Council of the People's Republic of China sent forward the document “Application for a Salvage and Collation Project for Minority Nationalities’ Early Texts.” This proposal had been sent to the State Council by the State Nationality Affairs Commission, and it strongly emphasized the urgency and significance of nationality text collation. After the State Council set up the Minority Nationalities Early Texts Collation and Publication planning team, the project was launched nationwide and entered a new stage of comprehensive planning and collaborative coordination.

These early developments recognized that China's nationality medical texts are an integral part of the literature of China and that they serve as bearers of nationality medical knowledge. Before the State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine (SATCM) was established in 1986, nationality medical affairs were directed from the Ministry of Health. In September 1984, China's first National Nationality Medicine Conference met in Hohhot, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, and formulated the Scheme for the Development of Nationality Medicine in the Seventh Five-Year Plan. This directive proposed the following: to “devote great effort to the salvage and collation of the heritage of nationality medicine,” it would be necessary to “collect, collate, translate, and publish early texts of nationality medicine, and formulate a project plan for 1985–1990.” This work plan projected that eight volumes of collated early literary works of Tibetan medicine would be published, along with seven volumes of Mongolian early works, two Uighur medicine collations, one volume for Dai medicine, two for Chaoxian (Korean) medicine, and one volume of mixed minority nationality medical works. In addition, the plan also urged the development and support of thirty-five clinical and research institutions: six in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, five in Tibet Autonomous Region, and five in Xinjiang Uygur Autonmous Region; four in the provinces of Qinghai, three in Yunnan, three in Sichuan, three in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, and one each in Guizhou, Gansu, Jilin, Hunan, Guangdong, and Hubei. It was anticipated that about thirty-three hundred beds would be established in the prefectural nationality medicine hospital of each of these nationalities.

After ten years of scholarly efforts led by SATCM, the goals of the above plan had been basically met. In 1997, SATCM promulgated an additional Scheme for the Greater Advancement of Work on Nationality Medicine. As a result, in 2001 and 2002, SATCM organized two projects titled Collation of Nationality Medical Texts, funded with more than 2 million Chinese yuan, and published a series of works under the title “Collation of Nationality Medical Texts by the State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine.” This project and its book series collected and edited key early texts from various nationality medicine traditions and summarized a variety of medical methods and prescriptions characteristic of the different nationality medicines.

In 2007 SATCM and ten other state ministries issued “Guidelines for Facilitating Nationality Medicine Development.” In a 2009 document, “Several Decisions of the Ministry of State Services on Encouraging and Enhancing the Development of Chinese Medicine,” they proclaimed that the state would “foster the development of nationality medicine” and “support the collation, annotation, and publication of crucial nationality medical texts” to encourage the continuance and development of nationality medicines.

With this kind of importance attributed to nationality medicine by the state, and with increasing funding support over the last ten or fifteen years from government agencies, the collation of nationality medical literatures has begun to make great progress. By now, our country's publications on nationality medicine have come to cover a wide range of topics and genres, from surveys of nationality medicine in general to more than one thousand works on thirty-plus specific systems of nationality medicine, including Tibetan, Mongolian, Uighur, Dai, Zhuang, Yao, Miao, Yi, Dong, Tujia, Korean, Hui, She, Lahu, Shui, Hani, Jinuo, Gelao, Buyi, Qiang, Maonan, Naxi, and Oroqen medicine. This corpus of work clearly manifests the multiplicity and abundance of traditional medicine in China.

The Work of Selecting Nationality Medicine Documents for the Catalog: Basic Situation

There have been several initiatives to survey and develop nationality medical literatures. In 1990 there was a conference in Hohhot, Inner Mongolia, where a “national committee for library and information of nationality medicines” was established for the work of compiling a catalogue and index of nationality medical literature. There was another meeting in Kunming, Yunnan, in 1992, where the national committee was renamed, still under the leadership of the Institute for Research of Chinese and Mongolian Medicine, but the work of compilation of the planned catalog has not yet been carried out.

In 2003 SATCM and the State Nationality Affairs Commission jointly initiated national research on the basic situation of nationality medicines, completing a survey and summary of the project by 2006. But this report was never published. As a result, we still do not have satisfactory reports on the work of preserving and editing nationality medical literature, especially early texts.

In fact, to this day we still have no bibliographic resource that can reflect and summarize the basic situation of the early literatures of nationality medicine at a national level. Because of this, in 2010 SATCM initiated a national public health funding program for “nationality medicine literature collation and appropriate technology selection and propagation.” This initiative called for the editing of a “General Catalog of China's Early Nationality Medicine Texts,” and for the establishment of a digital catalog database and the editing of 150 key works of nationality medicine. Since that time, this project has advanced cooperation among twenty-eight minority nationality groups and drawn on research institutions in thirteen provinces, cities, and national autonomous areas. The collaborative research of these institutions and researchers is being gathered under the aegis of the program office in Beijing. The planned volume, the “General Catalog of China's Early Nationality Medicine Texts,” is a nationally comprehensive bibliographic system for early medical texts. It will provide reliable statistics and textual information for protecting, transmitting, and using nationality medical literature. Moreover, it will aid in the preservation and development of the larger bodies of nationality medical literature. The database established on the basis of this research will assist in bringing early texts into modern medical and cultural resources. The entire database includes information on about three thousand documents and full text of about 150 facsimile works.

Information collection on early medical texts is not simply a matter of copying or inscribing texts. It is a scholarly process that demands academic skills, including the ability to locate obscure editions, compare various editions, evaluate the accuracy of records, classify the works, write accurate summaries, and edit catalogs. The catalogs produced can document the existence and disappearance of texts at different historical periods, on the one hand, and reflect scholarly developments in the history of literatures, as well as academic trends and intellectual genealogies, on the other hand. Therefore, the information in a catalog can serve as material for developing an evaluation of the strengths and weakness of nationality medicine scholarship. Consequently, this catalog's value to China's nationality medicine research is unquestionable.

Source Materials and Other Works

Nationality medicine catalogs available thus far include the following:

  • The General Catalog of Chinese Medicine Books in New China, 1949–2008 (Qiu, He, and Duan 2010), comprising general information on nationality medicine. The records collected in this catalog relating to nationality medicines are mainly modern publications edited after 1949. The works in it include ninety-six items of early nationality medicine literature, but they are difficult to authenticate, having been subject to editing in minority nationality medicine projects.

  • A collection of general bibliographic works touching on Tibetan medicine: Catalog of Chinese Publications in Tibetan Studies, 1949–1991; Sequel to Catalog of Chinese Publications in Tibetan Studies, 1992–1995; and Catalog of Chinese Publications in Tibetan Studies, Volume Three, 1996–2000, published by Foreign Languages Press (Editorial Committee 1995, 1997, 2001). These three works include entries for 3,169 works from two hundred publishers between 1949 and 2000. This number includes 131 books in Tibetan and Chinese that relate to Tibetan medicine, which in turn include ninety-three modern-edited works touching on early Tibetan literature. The records in these three bibliographies cover most of modern Tibetan studies, among them, recently edited early works of Tibetan medicine constitute only 3 percent of the listings. The advantage of this catalog is that summaries of the documents are attached to help the reader see the basic content. Following the appearance and development of digital databases, works in Tibetan studies written after 2000 are not listed in these bibliographic catalogs.

  • The Catalog and Index of Tibetan Medical Documents of China edited by Huang Fukai and published in 2003 by the China Tibetology Publishing House. This work collects essays and theses relating to Tibetan medicine from between 1949 and 2001. Among them are 178 specialized works on Tibetan medicine, 102 of which relate to the editing and publishing of early works. Information for each work includes the book name, author or editor, place of publication, publisher, date of publication, and number of pages. The book contains only titles of essays on Tibetan medicine (including newspaper articles). No summaries are attached, so there is no access to content for the reader.

  • Three major collations in Tibetan of medical works in the Tibetan Buddhist Canon, one of them four volumes published in 1989, 1992 (2 vols.), and 1996 (Rdo rje 1989–1996), and the others published in 1988 and 2007 (Karma 1988; ’Jigs byed skyabs, ’Bum kho, and Rta mgrin skyabs 2007). These anthologies select works from the Tibetan Buddhist Canon that have content relating to Tibetan medicine. Although they are not catalogs of specialized early works of Tibetan medicine, the material in these three collations reflects the situation of medicine within the transmission history of the canons of Tibetan Buddhism, so they are helpful for understanding Tibetan medicine's early works in their full context.

  • Another catalog, Bod kyi gso ba rig pa'i dkar chag mu tig phreng ba (Catalog of Tibetan Medical Literature) (Bla ma skyabs 1997), includes nearly twelve hundred classic works of Tibetan medicine by 150 historical authors. This catalog, in addition to its bibliographic information, also attaches brief explanations by some of the authors, so its information value is rather high. However, the entire book is ordered according to the Tibetan alphabet, with no topical sections, so the reader has no way of reading to understand the basic situation of early literature in Tibetan medicine. In addition, the book is entirely in Tibetan, which limits its general usefulness.

  • The Tibetan Medicine Hospital's Tibetan-Chinese-English Catalog of Books of Tibetan Traditional Medicine, published by the Tibet People's Press in 2006. This is the most systematically edited catalog of the early literature of Tibetan medicine to date. Its only shortcoming is that it does not include the early literatures of Tibetan medicine to be found in the four provinces outside of the Tibetan Autonomous Region.

  • Also published in Tibetan is the two-volume Catalogue of Ancient Books Kept at the Tibetan Autonomous Region's Tibetan Medical College (Tibet Autonomous Region Tibetan Medical College 2008), which includes fifty-six medicine classics and seventeen astronomy classics. This catalog is a reference work for academic libraries; its purpose is to help faculty and students look up resources for study, and as such it is a very useful bibliography. However, because the early works of Tibetan medicine held in the college are limited, the bibliography does not reflect the overall condition of Tibetan medical literature.

  • Uighur medicine is included in the Catalog of Works in Medicine and Literature (1951–2005), published in Uighur language in two volumes (Eziz 2006). The theses and technical works in this catalog are also mostly modern publications; it does not include early works. However, it does provide a great deal of information relevant to Uighur early medical literature and thus has research value for collection, cataloging, collating, and research.

  • Mongolian medicine has been collated in the Atlas of Early Literature Preserved in the Museum of Mongolian Medicine of Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region (Bilifu 2009). This catalog collects early works of Mongolian medicine, as well as some early works of Tibetan medicine and Indian Ayurvedic medicine, fully instantiating the traditional medicine that arose from the mutual influence of Tibetan and Mongolian cultures. Unfortunately, the catalog records only the works held by the Museum of Mongolian Medicine, so it does not reflect the full range of Mongolian medicine early literatures.

In general, the main characteristics of the nationality medicine catalogs of early literature that are published to date are as follows: The materials edited for Tibetan early medical literature are relatively mature and rich. Mongolian Uighur, Dai, and some others have some early texts and their own medicine written in their own nationality's script, though they do not have a fully cataloged archive of classic texts of their own. And there is no general or comprehensive catalog of the early literatures of nationality medicines.

The “General Catalog of China's Early Nationality Medicine Texts” and the Establishment of a Catalog Database of Nationality Medicine Texts

In preparing to edit the “General Catalog of China's Early Nationality Medicine Texts” (hereafter referred to as the General Catalog), we first prepared and published a guide to detail criteria for inclusion. With this guide we specified that the scope of the “early literature” of nationality medicines would be set as “books written or printed before 1949.”2 The language of the works to be included would be Chinese, while for Tibetan medicine, Mongolian medicine, Uighur medicine, and Dai medicine, the language would be both Chinese and nationality languages.

At the same time it was determined that the database for the General Catalog would include the literatures above but would also catalog information on works of nationality medicine published after 1949, as well as 150 works of early medicine to be reproduced in full as facsimiles. The language of the database itself is Chinese.

The design of the bibliographic information content in the database directly relates to the quality of the most up-to-date databases and must also maintain the same standard as the General Catalog. The database program set up the following instruments: (1) “Nationality Medicine Early Literatures Basic Information Survey Form” (in Chinese, Tibetan, Mongolian, and Uighur languages), (2) “Nationality Medicine Modern Literatures Basic Information Collection Form” (also in the four languages), and (3) “Detailed Criteria for Works of Nationality Medicine Early Literatures.” The aim of these three instruments is to maintain a high standard of data collection and standardization, with the hope that the work of collection could provide a national reference source and basis of research for the entire country. The survey form and detailed criteria were designed on the basis of China Literature Catalog Editing Standards (2005) while taking into account some particularities of the formation of nationality medicine early texts. Setting up these standard forms involved very close work with earlier Chinese medicine and nationality medicine publishing authorities, in an effort to make the criteria and procedures as complete, detailed, and exact as possible. In general, information collected with the two forms that code information about early and modern texts can serve as a preliminary summary of China's current situation of both early nationality medical texts and modern publications on nationality medicines.

The survey form for the early literature basic information for the database includes entries for form number; original form number; language used in the form; classification of text; title (including full title of the book, abbreviated title, various other designations, subtitle); Romanized spelling of title; Chinese translation of title; bound volume or not; author; author's year of birth and year of death; author's birthplace; book edition information; year of compilation; year of printing or transcription; location of printing or transcription; materials of the book; book condition; number of volumes/segments/parts; number of chapters/sections/divisions; dimensions of the book; dimensions of the title page; number of pages; preface information; illustration information; notes information; commentary information; basic introduction to the content (including biography of the author, table of contents, introduction to the major content, evaluation of the book's scholarly value, and edition and circulation information); collation information (including publication information if the book has been published); state of preservation; any missing contents; where collected; signature of the person responsible for filling in the form; time of filling in the form; copy editor's signature; time of copyediting the form; seal stamp of the collector or institution that holds the book; contact information and address of the collector or institution that holds the book; and notes and other information.

It is worth noting that accurate recording of the text's basic contents (e.g., author biography, introduction to the main content, scholarly value) relies heavily on the knowledge and points of view of the coders, or authors, of the survey form. In this project, a shortage of time usually prevents survey form authors from thoroughly reading the original texts. Yet their description when it is included in the database has a formative influence on future interpretations of the original texts. Moreover, the copy editors of the survey form are required only to scrutinize the information filled into the forms, usually without also reading the original texts. Thus, the research skill, general erudition with respect to nationality medicines, and time flexibility of form authors and editors importantly determine the quality of the information in the database.

The form for the modern text database is similar to that for the early text database. It also includes form number; language used in the form; type of text; classification of text; publication information; title (including full title of the book, subtitles, Romanized title, Chinese translation of title); person responsible for the book (principal author or editor); other principal authors; whether the book belongs to a book series; press information; date of publication; illustration information; number of volumes; number of pages; size of the book; ISBN information; word count; size of print run; price; an introduction to the book's basic information; form authors’ and editors’ signatures and information; and notes and other information.

However, note that the form for early text collection differs from the form for modern text collection. The former not only codes features of the texts and editions themselves but also contains a summary of the content of the text. The modern text collection form follows rules established in contemporary library science and thus requires less content information. Completion of the collection form for early texts is more demanding than for the modern corpus also because some nationality medical systems lack a local tradition of distinguishing editions and of writing summaries. For those nationality medicine systems, borrowing from bibliographical tradition and methods in Han Chinese is useful only up to a point; Chinese language conventions risk distorting the literatures of nationality medicines. In the long run, it is hoped that bibliography experts skilled in the various nationality medicines will discover the principles and rules governing their own nationality's bibliographic tradition, in order to systematically record and collate their nationality's medical texts in more appropriate ways.

Currently, the already completed catalog database includes four major categories: Nationality Medicine Early Texts, Nationality Medicine Modern Literature, Nationality Medicine Early Facsimile Texts, and General Records of Nationality Medicine Literature. The first three of the major categories are subcategorized according to regional divisions (provinces and regions), and the last one is based on classifications in use in nationality medical practice (natural drugs, drug formulas, medical history, medical cases, etc.). Using labels on the various information entries of a text at the lower level of the database, a user is able to conduct multitarget searches of author, title, date of book completion, and classification of text in order to locate information and sources efficiently.

We also clearly understand that the collection of bibliographical materials and the creation of a database can be understood as a kind of survey of China's medical literature, providing researchers with essential information on books and their contents and supplying decision makers with data on the number and types of books existing. Although in this case the bibliographical information includes introductions to the basic content of the texts, such as, for early texts, a biography of the author, the text's table of contents, a summary, and notes on scholarly value, editions, and circulation, still the bibliographical data cannot serve as a substitute for reading and research in the original texts. The information is collected for the database by nationality medicine researchers and scholars with backgrounds in the history of medicine, and they author introductions based on their understanding of the full text. Nevertheless, information collectors’ understandings of medicine and ability to interpret texts vary a great deal; databases should be used critically.

Problems and Prospects

Digitizing early texts is a global trend. It cannot be denied that digital technology is a substantial innovation in the protection, management, and use of early texts, but this innovation remains a double-edged sword. In recent years, with the widespread use of digital technologies in the collation of Chinese early medical texts, and with the completion of many large-scale databases, experiences and methods have been refined as they have been assembled, and technical support in the establishment of the nationality medicine text database has been invaluable. Nevertheless, the relatively late construction of the nationality medicine text database, the number of languages involved in the collation of nationality medical texts, and the multiplicity of forms and characteristics of the texts and books handled require a deepening of our practices and a widening of our discussion if we are to resolve the difficulties we presently face. There are, of course, problems with the input and comprehension of some nationality languages. But aside from these obvious difficulties, we need a better understanding of some problems that are generated by the emergence of databases themselves. The following sections discuss some subjective dilemmas that have arisen in the establishment and usage of databases, complications that classifiers encounter, problems of authentication of the materials collected, and changes brought by databases to the ways knowledge is gained and circulated.

Two Levels of Subjectivity

China's nationality medicine policy has consistently affirmed the inalienable nature of nationality medicine. Nationality medicines are integral parts of China's traditional medical and public health system. The emergence of nationality medicine is closely related to the modernization of this field, and the process of salvaging and collating nationality medicines is inseparable from the modernization of China's national health services overall. Because the development of nationality medicines cannot be separated from China's national situation, it is the state's responsibility to mobilize national-level resources and head the project, while always ensuring active cooperation with experts in nationality regions. This state-led development model is presently the main motive in local movements to develop nationality medicine. Further, the collection of nationality medical texts and the establishment of a comprehensive bibliographic database are based on the same considerations that target nationality medicine nationwide.

Certainly there are drawbacks with positioning the state as project leader, in that the state—with medical priorities in mind—is inclined to stress the contemporary situation of a nationality medicine's definitions and boundaries rather than the historical trajectory of a nationality medicine's development. Uighur medicine serves as an example: current projects focus on a description of Uighur medicine as it is practiced in the present day rather than on a comprehensive retrospection and documentation of the historical evolution of Uighur medicine.

In a state-led project, the problem of two levels of subjectivity is unavoidable. These two subjective positions boil down to a distinction between commitment to historical faithfulness and a commitment to the development of health services. Organizers of the project are both administrators of and service providers to the archival project. As service providers, or researchers who contribute content to the general catalog, the basic principle of their work is to respect the developmental history and historical realities of every nationality medicine, based on their best understanding of the current situation of every nationality's particular medicine. In designing the project, and as administrators, organizers focus on differences among various nationalities’ medical texts while remaining attentive to shared characteristics. Even though all of China's minority medical traditions are spoken of under the same heading of “nationality medicine,” every nationality's medicine is distinct, diverging from the others in its medical texts, knowledge system, inherited resources, and mode of development. Consequently, at every stage of the project, organizers must consult experts and scholars, including many kinds of experts in nationality medical literatures, medical practitioners, experts in Chinese medicine bibliography, and philologists, to resolve problems the project encounters. The survey forms used and the “Detailed Criteria for Works of Nationality Medicine Early Literatures” serve only as guidance for the use of advanced skills and sensitive methods. Organizers cannot control or modify the content of nationality medicine, but they must seek to assist experts by providing more advanced archiving and databasing methods so that they can better collate and use their own texts both as historians and medical practitioners.

Subjective confusion is encountered by project participants as well. Experts in medical history and bibliography insist that historical phenomena should not be overly modernized or transformed to be made consistent with contemporary standards—the “real past” matters. However, project participants constantly face dilemmas in their practical handling of materials: on the one hand, they need to represent the much earlier situation of nationality medicine, but on the other hand, they work in an environment where contemporary utilization of nationality medicine is emphasized. Texts and skills in nationality medicine cannot be preserved in the way that archaeological sites are; medicine is a living tradition with its own life and it is constantly developing. The contents of the early texts we collate represent both a heritage of a scholarly tradition and the medical and scholarly development of an earlier time. How should we systematically conduct genealogical research on the development of knowledge and practice, and follow the traces of a nationality's medical knowledge development? Shall we be more faithful to history, or to the needs of the present time? These problems of balancing and selecting confuse project participants and may result in unsystematic eclecticism in information collection. This is also why, under the influence of today's scientific discourse, more practitioners in nationality medicine have adopted a very pragmatic approach: they judge and evaluate medicine chiefly with reference to its healing efficacy and avoid or overlook the historical, cultural, and theoretical aspects of medicine.3

In general, construction of an infrastructure of technologies and methods would assist nationality medicine experts in their comprehensive investigation and research on their own nationality's medical texts. With such an infrastructure, further projects on distinguishing book editions and compiling book summaries could be conducted. The final goal is to establish a set of normative methods for early nationality medical texts in collaboration with philologists from various nationalities, in order to better assist those experts in making use of and collating their own nationality's medical texts. With the general globalization of knowledge, former barriers that kept nationality medical knowledge apart have been broken down. Although members of the original nationality cataloging a given set of texts still stand as the subjects of each group's knowledge creation and usage, knowledge per se and its beneficiaries are no longer restricted to that nationality's people. Researchers worldwide can use and benefit from the knowledge now being collated. Our project's hope is that every nationality's own experts could have primary agency in the collation of their own early texts and that they will promote the collation, articulation, and translation of nationality medical texts, in order to further adapt and develop nationality medicines in a global age. The problems that arise from divergent subjective points of view may be better resolved as this process evolves.

The Everyday Life of the Classifier

We have noted that the digitalization of traditional medical texts increasingly stresses the practical applications of texts, while it tends to overlook the history, transmission, and the cultural and societal aspects of texts. In many respects, including forms of edition, means of calculating number, titles, ways of crediting the author, and preface contents, nationality medical texts all embody distinctive and characteristic nationality conventions. In the database work, such traditional practices are often modified and reconstructed. This takes place most visibly in the process of categorizing early medical texts.

Tibetan medicine, for example, is one of the “five sciences” of Tibetan culture (the sciences of language, logic, medicine, fine arts and crafts, and spirituality). In most traditional Tibetan catalogs, there have not been subcategories for medical materials under the general category “science of medicine.” Our collation of bibliographical information, however, requires a classification of text type first, dividing early texts into “medical theory,” “medicines,” “prescriptions,” “diagnostic methods,” “skills and techniques,” “well-being,” “cases,” “specialties,” “history,” “astrology,” “general,” and “other.”4 This classification method apparently is adopted from the modern subdivisions of Chinese traditional medicine. Through reading Tibetan texts, we realized that the authors of Tibetan medical texts did not seek to classify texts via subcategories, and the classification method the database employs is largely a projection of the collectors’ point of view.5 Currently, the classification methods characteristic of early Tibetan medical texts’ own collections remain under investigated. In our opinion, the database's classification should not segment the materials in this way. Also, based on the strict formal nature of Tibetan texts, a summary of genre could be added to every subcategory to allow a certain quantification of qualitative judgments.

Classifiers also face more mundane pragmatic problems. For instance, traditional Tibetan texts are preserved in the form of palm leaf manuscripts, often known as “long-form books.” The main unit of enumeration is the po-ti (“volume”), and its definition is normally qualified as follows: “Manuscripts under 100 pages count as sections rather than as a po-ti” (Dong dkar 2001). However, there are some idiosyncrasies in the storage of early Tibetan medical texts: presently in some archives, most books in one po-ti are split into volumes and stored separately as different works. What, then, should be the standard in counting the number and types of early Tibetan medicine books? These changes in the recording and classifying of past knowledge, whether inadvertent or done with good intentions, mean that we may have permanently lost the history hidden behind the textual unit of the po-ti.

Translation of nationality medical vocabulary remains a problem as well. During the information inscription process that transfers nationality medical texts into databases, we often encounter a certain incommensurability between the original information and information translated into Chinese. Aside from differences in language and word usage, the most important source of this problem is a deeper incommensurability among traditional medical knowledge regimes. For example, Rlung in Tibetan medicine is not the same as feng (“wind”) in Chinese medicine, though feng had been used as the translation in the past; smug po and Tshab nad are diseases particular to Tibetan medicine and are hardly translatable or explainable in the catalog. We designed survey forms in Tibetan, Mongolian, and Uighur languages for information collection specifically to preserve the original information of nationality medical texts as much as possible, especially where standardized translations between nationality languages and standard Chinese have not yet been determined.

It is worth pointing out that the current catalog and database for nationality medical texts is more of a collection of early medical texts than a representation of the complex relations that obtain between books/knowledge and society/culture. The authored summaries notwithstanding, the method for collection of information is based on modern library science and bibliographical knowledge, rather than on the heritage of early medical knowledge or out of a deep knowledge of the historical constitution of early texts. The aim of database construction is to protect medical experiences recorded in the texts for the sake of fostering the development of modern nationality medicine, rather than a concern for textual or medical history. These characteristics result in a rather marked reduction of the complex and multiple history of nationality medical knowledge. The ancient and the modern are artificially divided, and a linear, homogeneous (and thus unhistorical) genealogy of modern nationality medical knowledge is constructed.

Authentication of Collected Texts

In the authentication of collected texts, all minority nationalities have situations specific to them. This diversity results both from the complex history of the formation of each minority nationality and from differences in the usage and circulation of nationality medical traditions among the various nationalities and in different regions. Currently, the authentication of nationality medicine texts is based less on their medical content than on criteria and distinctions set up by the nationalities themselves. This historical and political consideration in setting standards for identifying and validating catalog entries has influenced the ascription of nationality medical sources to particular cultural spheres, and it has affected how we understand the scope of any early nationality literature.

One example is the short history of the term “Uighur medicine.” This term has been employed for only several decades, whereas the traditional medicine of the Turkic peoples of the Gokturk Confederations in Xinjiang has a long tradition of thousands of years. Even now, traditional medicine of Gokturk Islamic Peoples in Xinjiang bears a notable similarity with Arabic medicine, as a consequence of the dissemination of Islamic culture in Inner Asia after the eleventh century. Uighur medicine thus shows an affinity with the knowledge regimes of adjacent Turkic peoples in Inner Asia. With the official identification and registration of the nationalities within Chinese territory after 1949, some nationality medical systems’ names were also settled, and “Uighur medicine” has been in use only since then. It is undeniable that the validation of “Uighur medicine” as a term was based on government nationality recognition standards rather than on an understanding of medical system characteristics. This problem also affects decisions about what should be included in the category of Uighur medical texts.

We have discussed these problems with Ehsan Imin, philologist and vice president of the Institute of Xinjiang Traditional Uighur Medicine in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, and worked out four standards for inclusion to resolve this problem: (1) early medical texts that have significantly influenced Uighur medicine in Uighur medical history and that have been inherited and taken up for use in Uighur medicine, such as Jamalliddin Aqsaray's Tebbiy Aqsaray (in Arabic; another name is White Palace); (2) Turkic Muslim people's traditional medical texts written in Old Turkic and in China's dynastic territories, for instance, medical texts in the Chagatai language, written under the Chagatai Khanate; (3) some medical texts in Xiyu languages that have been excavated in Xinjiang, especially the incomplete medical volumes written in early Uighur language and bearing a visible Indian medical influence; and (4) differences between Uighur medicine and neighboring medical systems to be taken into consideration as regards the nature and content of the texts—for instance, inclusion of medical texts in Urdu should be minimized, in order to avoid confusion between our own medical system and that of northern India's Unani medicine. Although some scholars still have concerns over these standards, it is undeniable that similar principles have been set up for the authentication of other nationality medical texts. These principles respect both nationality principles and the medical characteristics of nationality medicine.

As regards early Mongolian texts, one consequence of the particular historical features of the Tibetan-Mongolian cultural sphere is that most Mongolian medical texts are written in Tibetan, and the Mongolian medicine corpus has records similar to those of the texts claimed by Tibetan medicine specialists. To decide on proper ownership, should we judge by the author's nationality, by the language used in the text, or by the practiced medical tradition to which the text most clearly belongs? In his article “On the Definition of ‘Nationality Medicine’ and Collation of Nationality Medical Texts,” Cai Jingfeng (1999: 2) argues: “Whether a medical text belongs to nationality medical work should be based on the nature and content of its principal portions.” This reasonable standard could help with ownership problems of certain texts. However, the nature and content of the “principal portions” of many other texts in the modern Mongolian medical system remain a problem for further inquiry by Tibetan and Mongolian medical experts.

Changes in Modes of Gaining Knowledge and Its Forms of Articulation

As documents are digitalized, texts are increasingly taken as the equivalent of simplistic informational symbols. The emergence of textual databases is transforming the way in which people make use of texts; for instance, long-form reading notes are being replaced by “search results” reached with one or two keywords. Constant searching and comparing fragments of texts, rather than thorough reading, will increasingly serve as the main means to obtain knowledge and examine texts. Atomistic keywords come to be the key to reading. This loss of depth in understanding is paralleled by a new breadth of access to and use of early texts.6

Compared with the scattered and inaccessible situation of the medical texts of the various nationalities in the past, the emergence of nationality medical text catalogs and databases has considerably improved the transparency and availability of textual information, to such an extent that state-supported agencies have now attained a fairly comprehensive view of the extent of nationality medical texts nationwide. Certain texts that have been fully transcribed can now directly provide firsthand materials for researchers who would otherwise have to conduct fieldwork. It can be anticipated that similar databases will proliferate in the near future, that both knowledge and experience of nationality medicine will be more thoroughly integrated and disseminated, and that an increasing number of scholars will enter the field of nationality medicine. All of these developments should ultimately help to both preserve and develop nationality medicine. Database technologies are instrumental in bringing about this expansion of the many fields of nationality medicine and culture.

As we have argued above, nationality, traditional, and folk medicines are fields undergoing active development and evolution in the People's Republic of China. The many archives of early medical texts belonging to China's many nationalities are precious resources for historians and scholars, but they are also resources for medical practitioners who seek to develop and modernize their medical heritage. Geoffrey Bowker, in his Memory Practices in the Sciences, perceives our situation as catalogers and historians well: notwithstanding our intention to faithfully record and uncover the original condition of early nationality medical texts, we find that the texts unavoidably lose some of their components and are constantly reconstructed in new forms, and these new resources will be incorporated into future knowledge regimes. We feel we are on “a path between the social and political work of creating an explicit, indexical memory for science—[with] the making of infrastructures—and [experiencing] the variety of ways we continually reconfigure, lose, and regain the past” (Bowker 2008: back cover).

Acknowledgments

The research for this article is sponsored by the Nationality Medicine Literature Collation and Appropriate Technology Selection and Propagation program of the State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine of the People's Republic of China, and the Research on Methods for Collating the Literature of Tibetan Medicine and Uighur Medicine program of the China Institute for History of Medicine and Medical Literature. Translation by Xueting Liu and Judith Farquhar.

Notes

1

We translate zhengli 整理 in most cases as “collation and editing.” It should be noted that the same word is translated as “sorting” or “sorting out” in Farquhar and Lai in this issue.

Notes

2

Quoted from “Standards for Coding Minority Nationality Early Written Records,” produced under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture and the State Nationality Affairs Commission (not yet formally issued, and under the responsibility of the Cultural Palace of Nationalities). This document indicates that “[the category of] minority nationality early written records mainly refers to editions written or printed in minority nationality written languages before 1912 in China and its historical domains (including minority nationality areas historically under local jurisdiction). Considering the objective differences and complexities in the processes of production, development, and circulation of minority nationality early written records, and of Chinese early records, these standards should conditionally extend the period of early records to 1949” (5). “This rule reflects the important historical, scholarly, and artistic value, and the traditional significance, of minority nationality works in their specific copied, printed, and traditionally crafted and bound forms. We should also protect the particularly valuable editions of works of this type that have been copied or reprinted after 1949, but such works do not belong to the category of early records. Works without direct relevance to minority nationality traditional culture produced between 1912 and 1949 also do not belong to the category of early records” (8).

Notes

3

Naturally, practitioners have always evaluated medicines and techniques on the basis of common perceptions of efficacy. But under contemporary conditions, when traditional medicines are being criticized for being unscientific, the appeal to efficacy is particularly central. At the same time, an appreciation of theoretical logics, authoritative sources, and historical grounding tends to be left to the historians and archivists.

Notes

4

Among the “five sciences” of Tibetan culture, the sciences of fine arts and crafts include crafts, techniques, and astrology. In fact, Tibetan medicine and cosmology have a very close relationship. This is why astrology is highlighted here.

Notes

5

In selecting the set of early literatures, the categorization of nationality medical works tends to adopt new demarcations and classifications made by modern scholars on the basis of their body of knowledge about traditional medicine in history. This has become a general rule for compiling large-scale reference works for the Chinese medicine literature. For example, the new edition of General Catalog of the Early Literature of Chinese Medicine in China (Xue 2007) has adopted this style of classification. But from the point of view of literature and history scholars, this approach merits some debate. Traditional medical knowledge and traditional local knowledge are thoroughly entangled. Tibetan medicine, for example, belongs to the category of the science of medicine in the Tibetan Buddhist religious system, such that the connections between Tibetan medical knowledge and religion are very close. Yet there is no way to express this kind of intimate interconnection in modern classifications. In the process of historical development, each medical knowledge system as it has evolved through various historical phases has at the same time gradually developed its own stable model of classification, forming inseparable links to other forms of traditional knowledge. But in the context of this new kind of classification and scientization, the new classes of traditional medicine show quite a few differences from the indigenous categories used within historical medical traditions. How should we deal with the relation between the different sorts of classification? This remains a problem for medical historians and literature scholars.

Notes

6

The complex social lives of databases in relation to Asian forms of traditional knowledge are also discussed in three other articles in this issue: Farquhar and Lai, Fish, and Gaudillière.

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