Wenbo Liang [梁文博] is a Ph.D. student at Université Paris 1: Panthéon-Sorbonne.
My Ph.D. project aims to provide historical and epistemological reflections on a significant episode of integrative medicine: acupuncture anesthesia [針刺麻醉]. During the 1970s, acupuncture anesthesia was reported to be one of the most successful scientific achievements, a paragon of Chinese integrative medicine. It was applied in more than 2 million surgical procedures in Mainland China and caused a great public fascination with acupuncture on a world-wide scale. Within only a decade, however, this technique had been excluded from most operating rooms and was regarded as an unreliable technique and even an example of pseudo-science. This issue is closely related to China’s political events such as the Cultural Revolution. However, few studies have analyzed the epistemic role played by political ideology in this pursuit of integrating Chinese and Western medicine. How did acupuncture anesthesia become possible and gain such remarkable currency in China between 1958 and the 1970s? Why did one of China's most successful medical techniques so rapidly lose its status after 1980, initially regarded as a political swindle and eventually as inconsequential?
To address these questions, this study will thus cross the usual boundary between medical and political history. Rather than adopting a dogmatic political determinism, I will investigate the epistemological level underlying the rise and fall of acupuncture anesthesia, and ultimately challenge the banal demarcation between science and ideology. I will show that between 1958 and the 1970s in China, a self-justifying principle of epistemic value was formed, which permeated related concepts and material configurations such as pain measures, electro-acupuncture, and clinical trials. The consequent failure bears an epistemological contingency. In other words, the decline of acupuncture anesthesia can be attributed to the failure of its underlying ideology rather than its associated methodological strategies. This is a crucial point to note when analyzing today’s acupuncture research, as well as the demarcation between science and ideology.
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