Glocalizing Medicine

Professor Angela Leung, Director of the Hong Kong Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences, explained that Canton, as a major trading port since the 17th century, was uniquely suited for intercultural exchanges–dealing not only in tea, silver and raw silk, but medical knowledge as well. Leung came to NYU Shanghai to discuss what she calls the ‘glocalizing’ of medicine in the Canton region during the 19th and 20th century.

For the Cantonese, advances in medical knowledge came primarily through consulting ‘recipe books’ that varied by region and listed treatment plans for diseases common to the specific area. These books were popular and often distributed by churches to the poor as a charitable act.

Local knowledge was not the only thing spread through texts. Vaccinations, for example, first came to the Chinese as a translated text, but texts on foreign vaccination techniques were not exact translations. In translating, the Chinese would take liberties to form an amalgamation between traditional methods and new learned ways. For example, local Cantonese combined Western vaccination techniques with principles from acupuncture–Leung remarked that some would call this sinicizing instead of translating.
However, the ‘glocalizing’ of medicine during that time shows an important dialogue formed between Chinese and Western medicine, leading to an evolution of medical tradition.

(Text by: Mari Allison)

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