Medicine and Memory in Tibet

Amchi Physicians in an Age of Reform

by Theresia Hofer

Tibetan medicine is now one of the most vibrant aspects of contemporary Tibetan culture in China. Only fifty years ago, the Tibetan science of healing was seen as a vestige of Tibet’s alleged “feudal past” which through “socialist transformation” was to be eliminated. Drawing on rich, extremely rare ethnographic and historical research in contemporary Tibet, this book relays and analyzes the memories and work of Tibetan medical practitioners, or amchi. While some amchi managed to keep their medical heritage through great adversity and personal hardship, others’ tales are of pronounced loss. To the growing body of works on the revitalization of Buddhism and indigenous science in Tibet and China, this book adds a lively account of medical revivalism on the margins, one that is shown to begin even during the Cultural Revolution. Tibetan medicine was soon widely advocated by rehabilitated monks, nuns, lay amchi, government cadres and international NGOs. Throughout the book Dr. Hofer addresses the wider issue of writing history from the perspectives of marginal people whose everyday life has undergone rapid and far reaching ruptures that cannot officially be told. The book ends with a discussion of the latest challenges to Tibetan medicine’s role in rural primary care, as commercial interests, biomedical hegemony and politics converge in neo-liberal health care reforms and Tibetan medicine’s promotion to a “pillar industry” of Tibet (alongside mining and tourism) as well as an “ethnic medicine.”

Studies on Ethnic Groups in China presents research from a wide variety of disciplines on ethnic groups and ethnic relations in China. Anthropologists, historians, geographers, political scientists, and literary scholars have contributed works on minority ethnic groups from various regions of China, as well as on the majority Han and their relationships with other groups. Works are both historical and contemporary and cover topics ranging from identity, local relations, folk literature, and religion to medicine, governance, education, and economic development. The open access editions of many of the books in this series were made possible by a grant from the Transformation Fund of the Kenneth S. and Faye G. Allen Library Endowment.

Series editor: Stevan Harrell


  • isbn
  • publisher
    University of Washington Press
  • publisher place
    Seattle, WA
  • rights
    CC BY-NC-ND 4.0
  • series title
    Studies on Ethnic Groups in China