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Traditional Chinese medicine: The human dimension

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Product Description

By Big Leung

Published: 2008
ISBN: 978-0-9775742-2-3
Pages: xvi+212
Imprint:Verdant House


This book invites us to rethink the meaning of medicine and life - which are intertwined together. Most significantly, it stimulates our thinking of how to live in a more humane way, and this is the passion that I would like to share with you all. - Big Leung

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is a great treasure of China's ancient history and culture. Written for health professionals, researchers, social scientists and educators, this book elaborates a view that TCM is embodied in diverse and complex human dimensions and meanings in Chinese culture. Encircling Cultural Meaning includes the TCM concept 'Qi', the holistic approach, which embodies culture in medicine.

The book identifies intricate human dimensions of TCM in: the life stages of youth, adulthood and old age, as family connections, as identity, as balancing /harmonising life, as complementary and knowledge transmission roles. In particular, TCM is seen through the lens of leadership - as refining human relationships, as self, as moral practice, as good management practice, and as embracing the cultural environment. Underlying these categories, shared meanings are revealed, as well as core values and health beliefs in Chinese culture. The complex human dimensions of TCM are shown to be deeply rooted in social, cultural and historical contexts in the Chinese diaspora.

  • The Spirit of Chinese Culture: its Human Centredness
  • Conceptions of Leadership in Traditional Chinese Medicine
  • TCM for Youth, Adults and the Elderly
  • TCM in Family Connectedness
  • Chinese Identity, Body Image and Gender
  • Balance/Harmony/Knowledge
  • Underlying Beliefs and Roles
  • Social-Cultural Significance

The author draws from and extends her PhD research on lived Chinese experiences and conceptions of TCM across diverse individuals, populations, two focus groups in Australia, and three focus groups in Macau and Hong Kong. Encircling Cultural Meaning reveals rich and profound values in Chinese culture manifested at all levels of life, including: the reciprocal care of filial piety, trust, respect, considerations for others, the quest for self understanding, and the strive for peace and harmony.

These inner virtues in human relationships offers a soothing refuge and solution to the modern world which is often punctuated with imbalance, the overdependence on material acquisition, distrust, violence, and man's inhumanity towards man.

Table of Contents




Chapter One
Traditional Chinese Medicine: The Connections

Western Medicine in China
Traditional Chinese Medicine in Australia
Traditional Chinese Medicine in Hong Kong and Macau
Investigation of Traditional Chinese Medicine in this book

Chapter Two
The spirit of Chinese culture: Its human centredness

Chinese culture and humans
Development of humanistic philosophy
Harmony and balance in humanism
Human centredness in traditional Chinese culture
Value of Chinese cultural core values in the modern world

Chapter Three

Traditional Chinese Medicine and Western medicine
Source of beliefs
Transmission of Traditional Chinese Medicine knowledge

Chapter Four
Balance and Harmony

Balance through yin and yang
Balance in food
Disease resulting from imbalance
Harmony in living
Surpassing Traditional Chinese Medicine: keeping busy

Chapter Five
Youth, Adulthood, and Old Age

Traditional Chinese Medicine for boys
Traditional Chinese Medicine for men
Traditional Chinese Medicine for girls
Traditional Chinese Medicine for women
Traditional Chinese Medicine for old age

Chapter Six
Family Connectedness

Maternal bond
Children's reciprocal return
Family as knowledge transmission
Interacting with friends
As family tradition
Negative experiences of Traditional Chinese Medicine
Discontinuity of tradition

Chapter Seven

Concept of identity
Identity and body
Gender identity
Binary discourses
Comparing two generations

Chapter Eight
Conceptions of Leadership in Traditional Chinese Medicine

Concepts of leadership in I Ching and Tao
Study of Chinese conceptions of leadership
Conceptions of leadership in Traditional Chinese Medicine
Elements connecting conceptions of leadership
Discussion and reflections

Chapter Nine
The Human Dimension

Traditional Chinese Medicine as food
'Social cement' in social interaction
Embodying the human dimension



Chinese Dynasties
Chinese philosophers and classic literature
Chinese metaphors and sayings
Subject Index


Karin Stokes

Central Queensland University 

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM): The Human Dimension sets out to examine socio-cultural meanings that sustain TCM practices amongst a variety of ethnic Chinese participants. It offers insight into the perpetuation of ancient practices into the 21st Century and their interaction with Western sciences. The profound nature of the familial connections of Chinese people coupled with philosopho-religious understandings makes TCM an enduring social practice. Whilst incorporating practices as diverse as acupuncture, herbalism and taichi, TCM's greatest influence is in food practices, where prevention of illness is a constant and specialist foods are used therapeutically as well as prophylactically. The level of adherence to traditional practices varies greatly amongst the participants, but respect for TCM is aligned to familial devotions such as maternal love and ancestor worship.

Three philosophies have impacted directly upon TCM - the Tao, from which originates the concepts of ying and yang; Confucianism's emphasis on benevolence; and Mohist ideals of benefit and reciprocity. Brought together, they have produced a philosophical approach to health care that places great import on the wisdom of ancestors, duty towards family, friends and humanity generally, and the maintenance of a balanced and harmonious life. Maintaining balance is an ever-present issue for the Chinese, but the use of TCM modalities, particularly food practices, is believed to promote successful negotiation of life's challenges. To this end special foods are prepared for children, the elderly, the pregnant and the ill, the preparation ritualistic and infused with social meaning. Fertility and childrearing are crucial elements of the health of the family and the community.
It is in these aspects of life that most of Big's participants had experienced TCM, the gendering of the practices an important social constant.

Big Leung has presented a glimpse of a noble Eastern culture that is in vast contrast to that experienced by most native Australians, and her sensitive approach to her research is a palpable presence throughout the book. She brings to the reader an understanding born from participation in the culture she is investigating and there is a reverence toward the interview material that brings the speakers to life. The calligraphic embellishments and explanations add a touch of the balance and harmony that is the aim of TCM. The book bespeaks the peacefulness that is at the heart of Chinese philosophy. Brought into the global context, this book is a beacon that brings a major aspect of Chinese culture to a Western readership.

Western contact increases the dissemination of Western values, and already Big Leung's research attests to the diminishing reliance placed upon TCM food practices in the face of Western medicine's efficacy. China's greatest resource has always been its people, but social practices alter to accommodate dominant social mores, so there is a distinct possibility that TCM adherence will eventually die out as a widespread practice. This would be unfortunate, because although the therapeutic value of the ingredients may not be optimal, the philosophical and cultural elements of TCM have served to unite the people towards a common goal of harmony and balance. These elements are sorely lacking in Western cultures, so Big Leung's contribution is important in challenging the Western reader to re-examine their own contributions to social well-being.


Dr Hans A. Baer

School of Philosophy, Anthropology, and Social Inquiry

and Centre of Health and Society

University of Melbourne

To date, most of what has been written about Chinese medicine, such as Alan Bensoussan and Stephen Myers extensive report Toward a Safer Choice: The Practice of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Australia (Victoria Department of Health Services, 1996) has focused upon the organisational and political dimensions of the Chinese medicine and acupuncture profession in this country. In her book, Big Leung presents us with a highly readable and engaging patient-centred account of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) in Australia. Chinese medicine was first introduced in Australia in the mid-1850s in the Victoria gold fields and other places where Chinese miners and traders, most of whom planned to stay for a relatively brief period of time, congregated. Despite its historical antecedents, Chinese medicine and acupuncture became popular under the umbrella of the holistic health movement in Australia. In this phase, it found particular appeal among European Australians, as did various other complementary systems, including naturopathy, Western herbalism, homeopathy, and bodywork. Chinese medicine also grew in popularity in Australia during the 1980s because of the influx of Chinese medicine practitioners from China and Vietnam and increased access to Chinese herbs.

While many non-Asian people have been attracted to TCM, Leung's book focuses upon what anthropologist Arthur Kleinman terms the ‘explanatory models' of Chinese immigrants to Australia. As part of her PhD thesis research, mainly reported in chapters three to seven of her book, Leung, an immigrant herself who grew up in Macau and Hong Kong, interviewed primarily Chinese immigrants from mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, various Southeast Asian countries as well as Papua New Guinea. Utilising a snowball technique, she obtained 48 subjects from residents in Armidale, Brisbane, and Sydney. Two of her subjects, however, were Westerners, one the wife of a Chinese participant and the other a Chinese martial arts teacher with deep interest in TCM. Although Lueng identifies herself as a social scientist, she is not a positivist who is concerned with the fineries of quantitative research. Her approach to interpreting TCM instead is phenomenological and 'humanistic' in that she views this ever-growing medical system as 'imbued with profound Chinese values' (p. xiii), a contention that she explores in first two chapters of her book.

In chapters three through seven, Leung discusses the tendency of her subjects to utilise TCM alongside Western biomedicine; their views on TCM as a vehicle for restoring energy and balancing emotions; their personal experiences with TCM; the manner in which they acquired their knowledge about TCM; their conceptions of harmonising hot or cold constitutions, illness as a form of disequilibrium, and body control and body images; their use of TCM over the course of the life cycle, gender distinctions in the use of TCM, the relationship between TCM and kinship and social relations. Chapter 8, written with Rod Gerber, delineates conceptions of leadership in TCM. This research was based upon focus group interviews with 24 Chinese people residing in Macau and Hong Kong. According to Gerber and Lueng, ‘[g]ood leadership in Traditional Chinese Medicine was often depicted by the groups as being embodied by an ‘all round person,' a person with a holistic perspective, and the moral dimension was given high preference' (p. 167). In the concluding chapter, Leung provides a structural functionalist overview of TCM in her contention that it ‘cements social identities and cultural identities' (p. 176).

While my own orientation toward interpreting medical systems is more inclined to consider their hegemonic and counter-hegemonic elements and how they are situated in social hierarchies, what Leung has achieved in her book is the most detailed portrayal of TCM from an emic (insider's point of view). Hopefully her effort will inspire others to do simpler accounts of the utilisation of other complementary medical systems, particularly those among other immigrant groups in Australia.


Dr Stephen Kermode

Associate Professor of Nursing

Southern Cross University

This is a book for scholars of TCM philosophy and scholars of Chinese culture, for, as the author notes, the two are inseparable: 'I believe the meaning of medicine and life are intertwined. Most significantly, the practice of Traditional Chinese Medicine stimulates our thinking about how to live in a more humane way.' (p. xiv).

The character of this book is what first strikes the reader. It is both a rigorous socio-cultural analysis of the history and contexts of TCM and an intimate insight into the human-centeredness of the ideologies which form the matrix of TCM practices for contemporary users. It derives from the author's PhD studies including grounded theory research. The text is essentially discursive and structured around the major themes which arose from the author's research process.There are nine chapters in this book, each of which presents a different facet of TCM context for contemporary Australian Chinese expatriates, as well as for participants in Hong Kong and Macau. Each of these facets provides a window on the complex interrelationship between TCM and everyday life for the participants. The overriding theme is the human-centred nature of TCM philosophy as it manifests in forms such as balance and harmony, family connectedness and identity.

I would recommend this text to any reader who wishes to gain an insight into the cultural importance of TCM and the place it holds in the hearts and minds of those who grew up with it.


Big Leung's writing is informed by a breadth of vision and a deeply-felt humanism... I see here theoretical clarity, integrity of scholarship and a wealth of knowledge.

Dr Meg Carter, Research Fellow, Institute for Social Research, Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne, Australia

Traditional Chinese Medicine described here is much sought after by Westerners now as they realise the health benefits and well being that come from the positive effects of achieving balance in life, Yin/Yang, and that the importance of Qi, the vital life force, which are paramount in our lives... A balance in health ultimately influences the rest of one's life. In reading this book, others will come to realize that they can also tap the resources within themselves to fine tune their lives. ‘East meeting West' has added so much to my life.

Phillipa Condon, Educational Counsellor, Sydney, Australia

I feel as if I finally discover the source of Big's powerful energy and sound mind after reading her work on Traditional Chinese Medicine. This study will definitely contribute to a further understanding of Chinese culture, ethics and philosophy.

Rie Kage, PhD Candidate, Saga University, Japan

Well written and defined by the author, it is obvious that this book is the culmination of extensive field work and research. It covers many areas where she gained her information and much of which was being there and presented.

Norm MacDonald, retired Postmaster, Canada

This book reflects the historical background of the origins on the use of Chinese medicine in the places mentioned, as well as when and how the Western Medicine was introduced. The successes accomplished, especially with Chinese Medicine will encourage other countries, especially in Africa to research more on African medicine.

Eva Manyedi, PhD Candidate, lecturer, North-West University, South Africa

Big Leung's book masterfully conveys the therapeutic benefits of using traditional Chinese medicine as a model for living a healthy, meaningful and balanced life. Although ethically based, Big Leung draws upon the essences of I-Ching, Tao and Ying/Yang, to present a recipe for happiness that can be universally applicable and adoptable in any culture. This is especially true since we are now linked globally and mutually dependent on each other for almost everything, from economy to technology and world health.

The meaning of ‘medicine' in this book is not about the medicinal value of a particular drug or remedy that when taken, will cure a certain physical illness; it is instead, an elixir for living a healthy life through human relationships, which are the common threads binding us together despite our cultural differences.

Easy to read yet profoundly rich in depth of knowledge, the book enables the reader to take away portions of practicable wisdom, in part or whole, to enhance well being and quality of life. A wonderful book to read and treasure!

Jerry Mark, Department Head Manager, USA

In Chinese history, doctors or healers were properly paid for contributing to the good health of a village or a family clan through preventive counselling and drugs. As soon as people became sick or died through diseases, the healers got less payment. As Taoist wisdom knew about the destructive effects of hatred, quarrel, greed and competition on human health, the healers tried to contribute to a cooperative society, well balanced (Yin/Yang) between self esteem and caring for the other members of the community. Since then, I'm wondering, why we Westerners still cling to a system where doctors earn more, the more people are sick and the more sick people they can treat per day. Big Leung's book may help to find some answer.

Edgar Meyer PhD, retired Industrial Manager, Armidale, Australia

My country is a close neighbour to China and therefore is influenced much by China's culture, society as well as medicine.When I read this book's title, I thought that the author would focus on a lot of magic traditional medicine remedies of Chinese but I was really surprised at her approach - a very humane way in treating diseases and the real values of medicine. As I read it I felt one thing - Big Leung wrote this book with all her heart and with experience of a doctor from the viewpoint of a benevolent woman.

Nguyen Thi Quynh Nga, Interpreter, the Overseas Coastal Area Development Institute of Japan, Vietnam

This book is an interesting approach in the domain of the plural-discipline perspective, subsuming with elegance the border between medicine and society. Big Leung engages us to reflect on a new paradigm of the human dimension, revealed by her social-cultural approach. The holistic conception of the Chinese traditional medicine as a ‘way of life' could help us to link a new sense of social dimension in an integrative approach, even in times of modernity. The work retains great interest in itself, and the human dimension can be applied even in the problematic times we currently face.

Carlos Piteira, PhD Social Sciences (Technical University of Lisbon - Institute of Political and Social Sciences), Portugal

As I work for the poor and disadvantaged people in the community, often I find that not only do I provide medical treatments, but also emotional and sympathetic supports to patients and their families. Big Leung's book encourages us to see something further about invaluable values of humanity, history, social meanings and culture of Traditional Chinese Medicine, which I trust will help us in practice.

Dr Arry Pongtiku, MD, MHM (a national consultant for leprosy, tuberculosis and Yaws in Papua), Indonesia

Big Leung's book is well written and structured, containing materials accumulated through extensive research... It is also based on facts, combining theories and practice, and the results are very convincing. Third, the writing style is very fluent - both elegant and comprehensive. Fourth, it is very logical and coherent; explored in depth, yet easy to understand. Fifth, the holistic approach is used to explore the history of Chinese Medicine, the medical conditions, and the issues facing Chinese Medicine. Therefore, this book is very realistic, contributing to research of the history in Chinese medicine, and providing guidelines to the issues facing Chinese medicine today.

Mulin Wang, Editor of Zhuhaidaily, Zhuhai City of Guangdong, China

Big Leung's study of Traditional Chinese Medicine is an excellent rendition of how the tangible social cement of eating together is transformed into the formation and maintenance of the intangible social identity, positively affirmed. Food sharing is the social vehicle upon which the social body results in a society. Non food sharing results in social isolation. Deep human needs for social bonds are realized in the form of food as medicine. The reader will enjoy this explanation of how a society is built and held together.

Professor Barney G. Glaser, PhD, Hon PhD, Sociologist; Co-founder of Grounded Theory Methodology, USA

One cannot learn traditional Chinese medicine effectively without sound understanding of its cultural context. This was not achievable in the English speaking world due to the lack of quality reading material in this topic. This book will have a good interest in China as well given the recent push nationally and internationally for the Confucius culture.

Professor Charlie Xue, Head of Division of Chinese Medicine, School of Health Sciences; Director, World Health Organisation Collaborating Centre for Traditional Chinese Medicine, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia

... a refreshing but thorough study of the history, uses and meanings attributed to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) by people of all ages from Chinese heritage, residing in both Chinese-speaking and English-speaking countries. The book explicates the differences between TCM and Western Medicine by giving an overview of both Chinese and Western religious, philosophical and medical sources while integrating findings from a series of qualitative investigations on these issues. This is a welcome book and will be a valuable resource to all those interested in new insights into medicine and health promotion, Western and Traditional Chinese alike.

Professor Julie Cwikel, Women's Health Studies and Promotion, Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Israel

Author: Social Epidemiology: Strategies for Public Health Activism, 2006

Combining the personal, cultural, and aesthetic, Big Leung sets a course to understand the construction of Chinese medicine. Traditional Chinese Medicine: The Human Dimension breaks new ground in this regard and is a must read for all those interested in the relation between culture and knowledge.

Professor Andrew Gitlin, Elementary and Social Studies in Education, University of Georgia, Athens GA, USA

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