Friday, 3 April 2015

Pak Wah Lai: The Use of Patristic Studies in Chinese Contextual Theology: A Medical Anthropological Case Study

Despite the growing popularity of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) in the West (1), modern Chinese societies, such as China and Singapore, continue to debate its efficacy (2).  A similar ambivalence is observed among local Chinese Christian communities.  The issue at hand, however, is not merely the scientific legitimacy of TCM.  Rather, it is the supposed Daoist and therefore pagan associations of TCM.  As Daniel Tong puts it, Christians should not become TCM doctors “because those who choose to do so would … have to first buy into the religious philosophies behind Chinese medical practices.”(3)
Recent patristic studies have shown, however, that this is not the first time that Christians have encountered a ‘pagan’ medical tradition.    Indeed, the fathers have often appropriated Greek medicine creatively.  In this paper, I will argue that patristic reception of Greek medicine can inform the TCM debate in two ways.  First, it offers Chinese Christians a ready case study and rich insights as to how they can creatively appropriate a medical tradition whose philosophical roots may be foreign to Christian teachings.  Second, and more importantly, it also offers possibilities as to how Chinese Christians can forge a theological anthropology that is both Chinese and Christian.

  1. Miao Jiang, etc, “Clinical Studies with Traditional Chinese Medicine in the Past Decade and Future Research and Development,” Plant Medica 2010; 76(17): 2048-2064
  2. Andy Ho, “Pinning down acupuncture: It's a placebo,” Straits Times Feb 12, 2011.
  3. Daniel Tong, A Biblical Approach to Chinese Tradition and Beliefs (Singapore: Genesis, 2003), 113-14.

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