Health and Culture Practice

(Culture, Health and Medical Practices in Contemporary China)

(Subject to change)


Instructors: Dr. Tianshu Pan and Dr. Jianfeng Zhu


Course Description 

Drawing upon insights from medical anthropology, public health, bioethics and related fields, this course offers an interdisciplinary look at health practices in the context of China’s unprecedented socioeconomic transformations. Course enrollees are invited to examine the unfamiliar and exotic domains of Chinese Traditional Medicine and the familiar and the taken-for-granted areas such as biomedicine and its clinical practices from comparative perspectives. The overall purpose of the course is to strengthen their scholarly knowledge in preparation for empirical research based in China’s current health trends, transitions, and policies.


With a focus on the socio-cultural dimensions of health, ill health, and medicine, we will first introduce the key concepts threading through this course such as culture, medicalization, biopower, medical subject and object. Then we will further explore the knowledge and practices of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and the underlying “local biologies.” In the second section, we will take a critical look at the impact of medicalization on culturally meaningful life events in China such as birth and reproduction, aging and graying, disease and illness, and death and dying. We are hoping that you can achieve the goal of gaining deeper understanding of biomedicine and medical practices in general from a more social and cultural point of view. We need to understand how illness and suffering are shaped by political economy; how the medical and healing systems (including biomedical one) are considered as social institutions and sources of epistemological authority. Furthermore, it aims the students to grasp the meaning of medical pluralism and globalization. In addition to the lectures, we also encourage the students to take advantages of being in China and explore how local people experience and respond to illness and how they take care of their individual health.


Course Requirements:

  1. Attendance and participation.                  20%
  2. Four response paper                                  20%
  3. Illness narrative.                                         30%
  4. A take-home final exam.                            30%


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