chapter  8
21 Pages

Establishing proof

Translating “science” and the state in Tibetan medicine
ByVincanne Adams

In his numerous contributions to the field of medical anthropology, Charles Leslie demonstrated that a medical system ought to be understood not just as a system of knowledge, belief, and practices, but as a set of social, historical, political, and economic forces that are set in motion through medical personalities. Through portraits of individuals who in some cases were explicitly concerned with such things as nationalism, resisting colonial hegemony, alternative scientific truth, and marketplace advantage, he showed how practical engagements with medicine reveal these larger forces and concerns (Leslie 1976, 1980, 1986, 1992). In doing so, Leslie foreshadowed contemporary science studies insights that empirical medical truths are contingent on much larger political, economic and social negotiations. In this essay, I follow Leslie’s example by exploring the larger forces at work in contemporary practices of Tibetan medicine in modernday Tibet. In particular, I focus on one physician’s efforts to establish “proof” of the effectiveness of Tibetan medicine by using empirical evidence. I suggest that claims to empirical truth found in this case should be understood as both products of competing political, nationalist, religious, economic, and culturally historical influences in China’s Tibet, on the one hand, and on the other, products of the particular medical methods of those individuals who live through these influences.2