Medicine and Memory in Tibet

Amchi Physicians in an Age of Reform

Theresia Hofer

  • Published: April 2018
  • Subject Listing: Asian Studies / Tibet; Health; Anthropology
  • Bibliographic information: 304 pp., 29 bandw illus., 2 maps, 3 tables, 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: World Rights
  • Series: Studies on Ethnic Groups in China
  • Contents

Only fifty years ago, Tibetan medicine, now seen in China as a vibrant aspect of Tibetan culture, was considered a feudal vestige to be eliminated through government-led social transformation. Medicine and Memory in Tibet examines medical revivalism on the geographic and sociopolitical margins both of China and of Tibet's medical establishment in Lhasa, exploring the work of medical practitioners, or amchi, and of Medical Houses in the west-central region of Tsang.

Due to difficult research access and the power of state institutions in the writing of history, the perspectives of more marginal amchi have been absent from most accounts of Tibetan medicine. Theresia Hofer breaks new ground both theoretically and ethnographically, in ways that would be impossible in today's more restrictive political climate that severely limits access for researchers. She illuminates how medical practitioners safeguarded their professional heritage through great adversity and personal hardship.
Theresia Hofer is lecturer in social anthropology at the University of Bristol. She is the author of The Inheritance of Change: Transmission and Practice of Tibetan Medicine in Ngamring and editor of Bodies in Balance: The Art of Tibetan Medicine.

"Medicine and Memory in Tibet opens up for readers a sense of what it has meant to be a Tibetan medical practitioner during the massive political, economic, and sociocultural transitions of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Hofer reveals the complexities of knowledge transmission, the history of medical practice, and the power of local histories."
-Sienna R. Craig, author of Healing Elements: Efficacy and the Social Ecologies of Tibetan Medicine

"Hofer examines aspects of the history of Tibetan medicine that have not been well studied, including the structure and significance of Tibetan Medical Houses. Her investigation and analysis broaden our understanding of the multifaceted nature of Tibetan medicine."
-Denise M. Glover, coeditor of Explorers and Scientists in China's Borderlands, 1880-1950

"This beautiful ethnography offers the missing story of the modern history of Tibetan Medicine. Not only an excellent introduction to the medical system, Medicine and Memory in Tibet offers novel insights about the work of rural lineage based practitioners, the role of memory in cultural preservation, and the gendered experiences of health under tumultuous demands of modernization. In sum, Theresia Hofer has offered a gem."
-Vincanne Adams, Department of Anthropology, History, and Social Medicine, University of California, San Francisco


"Through rich narratives, detailed descriptions, and critical analysis, Hofer brings to light the struggles and hardships of medical practitioners on the socio-political margins of Tibet. . . . This study is a unique and well-crafted ethnography written in beautiful prose that will be of great interest to scholars and students of Tibetan medicine and minorities in China, social anthropologists, and historians alike."
-Benedikte V. Lindskog , Reading Religion