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Manufacturing Tibetan Medicine: The Creation of an Industry and the Moral Economy of Tibetanness

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Volume 12

Epistemologies of Healing

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Manufacturing Tibetan Medicine

The Creation of an Industry and the Moral Economy of Tibetanness

Martin Saxer

304 pages, 20 illus., bibliog., index

ISBN  978-0-85745-772-1 $135.00/£99.00 Hb Published (April 2013)

eISBN 978-0-85745-775-2 eBook

Hb View cartYour country: United States - Click here to remove geolocation   Buy the eBook from these vendors Request a Review or Examination Copy (in Digital Format) Recommend to your Library Available in GOBI®


This is an outstanding piece of scholarship… the overall structure of the book is excellent.”  ·  Sienna Craig, Dartmouth College

This is a timely and well-researched work that brings into focus the intersection between a globally expanding market in Tibetan medicine, the lived practice of medicine production, and issues pertinent to Tibetan identity. It is engaging and insightful, and nicely grounded ethnographically.”  ·  Denise M. Glover, University of Puget Sound

“…a highly readable exploration of medical, socio-cultural, political, economic, and aesthetic issues in the industrial production of Tibetan medicine in the PRC. The author approaches this subject with a pleasing curiosity, often questioning in unexpected ways assumptions that are regularly made about Tibet. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book.”  ·  Theresia Hofer, University of Oslo


Within a mere decade, hospital pharmacies throughout the Tibetan areas of the People’s Republic of China have been converted into pharmaceutical companies. Confronted with the logic of capital and profit, these companies now produce commodities for a nationwide market. While these developments are depicted as a big success in China, they have also been met with harsh criticism in Tibet. At stake is a fundamental (re-)manufacturing of Tibetan medicine as a system of knowledge and practice. Being important both to the agenda of the Party State’s policies on Tibet and to Tibetan self-understanding, the Tibetan medicine industry has become an arena in which different visions of Tibet’s future clash.

Martin Saxer received a PhD in Social and Cultural Anthropology from the University of Oxford and is currently a Marie Curie Fellow at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich. Since 2003, he has worked on the history and contemporary practice of Tibetan medicine in Russia (Buryatia) and Tibet. He is the director of the documentary film ‘Journeys with Tibetan Medicine’ and runs the visual ethnography blog

Subject: Medical Anthropology
Area: Asia-Pacific


List of Illustrations
Notes on Transliteration and Transcription
Map of Tibet
Cast of Main Characters

Chapter 1. Introduction

  • Perspectives on Tibetan medicine
  • Aku  Jinpa
  • Official Views
  • The Topic of Inquiry
  • Industrial Modernities
  • Tibetanness and the Moral Space of Tradition
  • The Industry as Assemblage
  • Language and Terminology

Chapter 2. The Creation of an Industry

  • Sowa Rigpa and TCM – Different Trajectories
  • Interference and Non-Interference
  • The Making of TCM
  • Tentative Integration of Sowa Rigpa
  • Textbooks, Standardised Practice and Pharmacy
  • From Pharmacy to Factory
  • Reform and Revival
  • Socialist Market Economy
  • Founding Shongpalhachu
  • Tibetan Drug Standards and Chinese Pharmacopoeia
  • The Introduction of Good Manufacturing Practice
  • Ownership and Investment
  • Relations Between GMP Factories and Hospitals
  • The SFDA and National Drug Registration
  • The Size of the Industry
  • Forces at Work

Chapter 3. Manufacturing Good Practice

  • GMP in China
  • The Steps of Production
  • Sourcing and Storage of Raw Materials
  • Simple Pre-Processing: Washing, Trimming, Sorting
  • Complex Pre-Processing: Tsothal
  • Grinding, Mixing, and Making Pills
  • Sterilisation
  • Drying
  • Rationales, Practicalities
  • Validation
  • Self-Inspection

Chapter 4. Raw Materials, Refined

  • Domestic Sourcing Strategies
  • Long-term Relations to Village Collectors
  • Cultivation
  • Commercial Traders
  • Transnational Trade and Border Regimes
  • Import licences
  • Trader Tactics
  • Taxonomy and Legibility
  • Business Cultures
  • CITES and Nepalese Authorities
  • Baru
  • Gyatig
  • Back to Tibet
  • Tactics and Strategies

Chapter 5. Knowledge, Property

  • Owners and Pirates
  • The Problem of Patents
  • Precious Pills, Precious Properties
  • Filtering Knowledge
  • ‘Old’ and ‘New’ Knowledge
  • Randomised Controlled Trials
  • The Knowledge Commodity
  • Decoupling Forms of Knowledge
  • Property, Knowledge

Chapter 6. The Aesthetic Enterprise

  • Disenchantment, Enchantment
  • Mendrup
  • Rituals of GMP
  • Packaging Remedies
  • Design
  • Materiality
  • Advertisement
  • Three Campaigns
  • Visual Themes
  • The Buddhist Company
  • Yuthog
  • Spiritual Spa
  • Arura’s Museum
  • Enchanting Whom?

Chapter 7. The Moral Economy of Tibetanness

  • The Tibetanness Economy
  • Preservation and Development
  • Civilisation, Culture
  • Theme Parks: Manufacturing Minzu
  • Exhibiting Sowa Rigpa and a Farewell to GMP
  • Morality and Spectacles of Authenticity
  • Real and Fake
  • Profit and the Ethics of Being a Doctor
  • The Problem of Trust
  • Balancing Profit with Altruism
  • Morality at Large
  • Building a Harmonious Society, Resisting Culture
  • The Moral Economy at Large

Chapter 8. Conclusions

  • Fallacies
  • One – Industry and Modernism
  • Two – Globalisation and Sinicisation
  • Three – Knowledge
  • Assemblage, Revisited
  • Contemporary by Assemblage
  • Territorial by Assemblage


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