Re-invigorating Chinese Medicine as a Living Tradition

Submitting Institution

University of Westminster

Unit of Assessment

Allied Health Professions, Dentistry, Nursing and Pharmacy

Summary Impact Type


Research Subject Area(s)

Studies In Human Society: Policy and Administration, Sociology
History and Archaeology: Historical Studies

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Summary of the impact

Volker Scheid's historical and ethnographic research of medicine in late imperial and contemporary China has significantly contributed to invigorating the Menghe medical current, a grouping of medicine physicians centred on the city of Changzhou in Jiangsu Province, China. Such renewed vitality is reflected in the activities of the the Changzhou Association for the Transmission of the Menghe medical current, the establishment of a Famous Doctor's Clinic, the foundation of a museum for medical history, creation of a memorial park, the reinstitutionalisation of apprenticeship training as well as numerous publications directed at the general public as well as academics.

Underpinning research

The research leading to the impact described was carried out by Scheid working as an individual researcher. It builds on fieldwork carried out in China between 1994 and 1996 while studying for a PhD at the Department of Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge. This was followed by further fieldwork and archival research between 1999 and 2002 for a post-doctoral project funded by the Wellcome Trust. Scheid continued and deepened his research while holding positions as postdoctoral research fellow, reader and professor at the University of Westminster (2004-2013).

Scheid's monograph on the Menghe current (2007) is a logical continuation of his earlier research on the plurality of Chinese medicine in contemporary China (2002a). The monograph and related papers, which have been published in Chinese (2004b) and Taiwanese (2002b) as well as English language journals (2004, 2005) constitute the first detailed longue durée study of a regional medical tradition in China. Focusing on the history of a number of family traditions from the small town of Menghe in Jiangsu Province (connected to each other through kinship, studentship and mutual learning, as well as economic cooperation and competition) the study makes a number of important contributions to our understanding not only of Chinese medicine but of tradition more generally. In relation to Chinese medicine it demonstrates that a focus on local contexts of practice is essential for understanding its development over time, shattering established notions of a single tradition. At the same time, it allows us to understand how a `living tradition' adapts to changing social, cultural, political and economic conditions, yet maintain among its members a sense of unbroken continuity. Given the enormous influence of the Menghe current on the development of Chinese medicine specifically during the Republican era and the early Maoist period, the study also sheds new light on the modernisation of tradition during these times. Reviewers have described the monograph as `essential reading for anyone seeking a nuanced understanding of Chinese medicine and the social dynamics that have shaped it over time.' (Wu 2009)

Scheid's conception of `living tradition' has reshaped our understanding of Chinese and other East Asian medicines not only among humanities scholars but also among practitioners and clinical researchers.

Funded by two further Wellcome Trust grants Scheid has since established the EASTmedicine (East Asian Traditions in Science and Medicine) at the University of Westminster. At present the centre funds four postdoctoral researchers and three PhD students. The group is extending Scheid's conceptual approaches to a transnational examination of East Asian medicines over the last millennium engaging an interdisciplinary audience that includes historians, anthropologists, science studies researchers, epidemiologists, clinicians, and systems biologists as documented by EASTmedicine conferences, workshops and academic networks ( created with the help of funding from AHRC, Wellcome and the Chiang Ching-Kuo Foundation.

References to the research


* Scheid, Volker. Chinese Medicine in Contemporary China: Plurality and Synthesis (Duke UP, 2002a). Currently being translated into Korean

* Scheid, Volker. Currents of Tradition in Chinese Medicine 1626-2006 (Eastland Press, 2009). Currently being translated into Chinese

* Scheid, Volker. Restructuring the field of Chinese medicine: The Menghe and Ding scholarly Currents, 1600-2000, Parts 1 and 2. East Asian Science, Technology and Medicine, no. 22 (2004a): 10-68 and no. 23 (2005): 10-68.

Scheid, Volker. Menghe yixue xintan 孟河醫學新探 (A New Inquiry into Menghe Physicians). Zhonghua yishi zazhi 中華醫史雜誌(Chinese Journal of Medical History) 34, no. 2 (2004b): 67-73.

Scheid, Volker. Wujin medicine remembered: memory, identity, and social networks in Chinese medicine, 1800-2000. Taiwanese Journal for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, no. 2 (2002b): 121-84.

Wu Yi-Li. Currents of Tradition in Chinese Medicine, 126-2006 (review). Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 83 (2009): 200-201.


Note: Publications with * were included in RAE/REF


Wellcome Trust for the History of Medicine Postdoctoral Fellowship (Award 056302/Z/98): Following the Ancients without Getting Stuck in the Old: Plurality and Change in a Chinese Medical Lineage 1850-1990. Amount: £ 88,219; Period: 06/1999 - 05/2002.

Wellcome Trust for the History of Medicine Project Grant (Award 056302/Z/98): The History of the Liver: Towards a Transnational History of East Asian Medicine. Amount: £ 205,000. Period: 06/2009 - 05/2012.

AHRC Research Network Grant: Traditional East Asian Medicine Research Network — Making the Humanities Relevant to East Asian Medicine Research. Amount: 37,500. Period: 10/2009 - 06/2011.

Chiang Ching-Kuo Foundation Conference Grant (with Howard Chiang and Carla Nappi): The (After)Life of Traditional Knowledge: Towards a Historiographic Epistemology of East Asian Medicine. Amount: € 20,000. August 2010.

Wellcome Trust Senior Investigator Award in the Medical Humanities (Award 097918/Z/11/Z): Beyond Tradition: Ways of Knowing and Styles of Practice in East Asian Medicines, 1000 to the present; Amount £ 974,187); August 2012

Details of the impact

Scheid's research provided a crucial spark for a revitalisation of the Menghe medical current in both China and abroad. Following a period of flourishing and wide-spread impact that extended from the 1820s to the 1970s, by the 1990s the vitality of Menghe medicine had visibly declined. Very few young practitioners considered themselves as belonging to this medical current and its institutional base and influence was by then negligible. Scheid's interest in Menghe medicine, his collaboration with local historians and informants, and the publications of his research in China and the West stimulated a renewed interest in revitalising the current. This is important for a variety of different reasons. First, it has contributed to the creation of local identities at different levels: families, local and regional communities, and scholarly communities. Second, it is reinvigorating a medical tradition that has long been considered one of the most important branches of Chinese medicine. Third, Scheid's research has facilitated the establishment of cross-cultural and transnational links at personal and institutional levels that are generating new possibilities of learning for Chinese medicine practitioners and researchers.

Locally, in Changzhou, Wujin and Shanghai the Menge current reorganised once more formally around the Changzhou Menghe Current Development Association 常州孟河醫派承轉會, established in 2007. In August 2007 over four hundred Chinese and international scholars meet in Changzhou to celebrate and promote Menghe medicine. The city's Changzhou Daily presents this remarkable event. The local historian Li Xiating expressed his deep gratitude in the city's Changzhou daily for Volker Scheid's scholarship that supported the revival. Since then, the Association publishes a regular Newsletter that seeks to archive the history of Menghe Medicine, organizes meetings and conferences, and has become an important force in bringing local history alive in the region. At three Shanghai hospitals members of the Association work and train students. Scheid was invited to lecture at the annual meeting of the Association in 2008 and has been asked to advice on its future development and possible internationalization. Funding from the Association's Chairman, Mr. Gu Shuhua, has been made available to fund the translation of Scheid's monograph Currents of Tradition into Chinese with publication envisaged for 2014.

Seizing an opportunity to promote their town following the work of Scheid, government and party representatives at township level helped to establish a specialist clinic in the Menghe township, the Famous Doctor's Clinic of the Menghe Current (Menghe yipai mingyitang 孟河醫派名醫堂) ). The Changzhou city's Chinese medical hospital has taken over another field of representation and transmission and markets its style as "Menghe", esteeming to provide space for scholarly exchange and begin educating Western foreigners also. The head of the hospital Zhang Qi has stressed that she hopes Volker Scheid will continue to play a major role with the aim to achieve transnational recognition of Menghe medicine.

Local actors have also begun to employ the heritage of Menghe medicine to raise recognition of their town and region to promote cultural tourism. In 2005, a new Museum of Menghe Medicine was opened in Menghe Township in the renovated home of the Fei family. The Museum lists Scheid as a member of the Menghe medical currents and displays his works. In 2010, work on rebuilding the original Ding family residence in Menghe commenced and was completed in October 2011. The site has a memorial to the famous physician Ding Ganren situated within a memorial park. It is envisaged to use the site to train foreign students in the future. (Note: The Fei and Ding are two of the major medical families belonging to the Menghe current). A CCTV television series documenting the history of Menghe medicine was filmed in 2009. Knowledge about the Menghe current is also widely employed by Changzhou Council to promote local history and tourism through local media and the world-wide web.

Since Scheid first visited Menghe in 2000, local historians like Li Xiating have begun publishing a number of new studies on the Menghe current that draw their inspiration and much information from Scheid's research. Menghe medicine and Ding family medicine have been selected as important research topics funded at regional, provincial and national level. Scheid has been asked to work with a research group in Shanghai in developing local research projects.

Abroad, Chinese medicine practitioners now recognize Menghe medicine as an important tradition within Chinese medicine. This helps to shape the identity of individual physicians and the wider medical tradition. Together with Five Branches University in San Jose/Santa Cruz, California, Dr. Ding Yi'e, a great-grandson of Ding Ganren, is currently actively establishing a US-based centre for Menghe medicine. Scheid has been asked to participate as an advisor.

Finally, Scheid's research helped the individual Menghe families to reclaim aspects of their family history that had been forgotten.

Sources to corroborate the impact

  • A Google search for the keywords <孟河醫派> AND <Scheid> yields 2080 results evidencing a wide-spread interest in Menghe medicine as well as acknowledging Scheid's role in it's revitalization.
  • Scheid's visits to Changzhou and Menghe have been regularly noted in the Changzhou Daily 常州日報: and other local publications in Wujin County and Shanghai. See also attached.
  • An article on Scheid's research and influence on Menghe Medicine was published in the Shanghai Chinese Medicine News on 22 December 2012. This can be accessed at:
  • Scheid's role in re-evaluation Chinese medical research in Jiangsu province is acknowledged in scholarly papers, e.g. Ni Haoxiang 倪吳翔 and Wen Xiang 文祥. 2010. Jindai Jiangsu zhongyi jiaoyu janjiu shuping 近代江蘇中醫教育研究述評 (Evaluation of research on Chinese medical education in Jiangsu Province). Yuanzhi zazhi ,遠志雜事, 5(3): 22-24.

Emails are held by Volker Scheid with local actors in Menghe, Changzhou and Shanghai.