Social and cultural interpretation

The social and cultural reasons for interpreting the image and values of TCM in modern China can be analyzed from three time frames: diachronically, syn- chronically and transchronically.

First, from the diachronic perspective, the cultural image and values of TCM are rooted in the historical conceptualization of the relationship between China as a nation and its cultural relics as the identifier of the nation. The conception of nation in China is based on the entire Chinese civilization that dates back to thousands of years ago. This notion of “civilization of continuity” has created the sense of “continuity of being” in the Chinese people (Chen, 2017: 8). In this sense, being Chinese is rooted in its time-spanning culture symbolized by its traditions, customs, history, language system, etc. In this case, TCM is a key component of the Chinese cultural relics and holds an essential position in defining the identity of China as well as that of the Chinese people. This can explain why TCM needs to be inherited, developed and innovated. Without historical inheritance, continuous developments and innovative advancements, the consistency of the TCM culture will be lost and so will the sense of the national identity associated with it.

Second, from the synchronic perspective, the image and values of TCM are related to the social and cultural situations of modern China. In this case, the trend of globalization plays a key role in transforming China into its modern state. Ever since China’s reform and opening up began in the late 1970s, globalization has been taking place in nearly every aspect of Chinese people’s life. So, globalization is not simply a new international or global conceptual framework by which China’s changes can be understood, it is also a historical condition in which China’s reform and opening up has unfolded (Liu, 2004: 2). With the process of modernization arose the issues and challenges in dealing with the old and the traditional, and in transforming them into their modern versions. Since the western countries experienced modernization and globalization first, it is possible that a nation gets westernized when it gets globalized. This poses a threat or at least a big challenge to the identity of a nation that is rooted in a long-lasting history and culture. As a consequence, it is possible that the medical theories and practices of TCM to some extent become too westernized. Facing these problems, TCM has not withdrawn from globalization but rather innovates itself by learning from the western medicine while still retaining its own identity. In moving toward its modern state, TCM undergoes a process of glocalization, which is one of in-depth integration and mutual learning, instead of one of sheer westernization. It is a process of combining “homogeneity with heterogeneity and universalism with particularism” (Robertson, 1995: 27).

Third, from the transchronic perspective, the frame crossing different times, the long-kept cultural roots are the design features that lay the foundation for understanding the various aspects of modern China. Despite the foreign invasions and interruptions that China experienced in its development toward the present state, some core notions in the value system have remained consistent in the Chinese culture till the present day (Chen, 2017). These lay the foundation of the world views and behavior guidelines for the nation and its people across different temporospatial dimensions. They include the ideas of ‘Taoism’, ‘the unification of Heaven, Earth and Man’, ‘the balance between Yin and Yang’, ‘the reconciliation and the golden mean’ and ‘dialectics’, to name just a few. These core cultural values form the basis for the national media to identify TCM as what the findings suggest. For instance, the idea of Yin and Yang believes that two complementary opposites are the root of the existence of various beings and their constant changes in the world. So, two different things can live in peace and harmony, and prosper together in the complementary and changing world as long as the balance between the two opposites is maintained. This cultural notion underlies the partnership conception between TCM and MWM: faced with more advanced western medicine, people practicing TCM do not see it simply as a challenge, still less as a threat, but more as an opportunity to better develop and improve TCM. In this way, what is national becomes international and vice versa. This spirit of inclusiveness and sharing well explains the identity of TCM in relation to MWM. Hence it is a product of cross-cultural communication between China and the West.

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