Book review by Anthony Campbell. The review is licensed under a Creative Commons Licence.

A book that changed my thinking about Chinese medicine

Like many Westerners, I formed my view of the origins of Chinese medicine, and especially Chinese acupuncture, largely through the writing of Joseph Needham and Lu Gwei-djen, which I had read quite a number of years ago. Celestial Lancets: A History and Rationale of Acupuncture and Moxibustion appeared in 1980 and in 2000 these authors published an influential volume on Chinese medicine in Needham's huge multi-volume study Science and Civilisation in China.

Needham had the help of many Chinese scholars in his work, including Gwei-djen, and I assumed more or less unquestioningly that his views were the most authoritative and up to date that were available in English. But Brown finds that his interpretations need to be revised, although not in exactly the way that other critics have argued.

I think that her book is useful for the non-professional reader who wants to get a perspective on modern popular writing on Chinese medicine on the internet and elsewhere, which often makes large claims for the scientific attitude of the ancient Chinese healers. Knowing the way in which these ideas have developed makes it easier to assess how relevant they are in a modern context.

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