Book Review – The Dao of Healing

The Dao of Healing: Christian Perspectives on Chinese Medicine

By Pak-Wah Lai, PhD
320 pages, Graceworks Pte Ltd.
ISBN 9789811166631

Goodreads rating: 4.00 out of 5

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is making a renaissance of sorts. TCM centres (including those with the more contemporary-sounding moniker of ‘wellness centre’) are appearing everywhere. More and more of the younger generation are re-discovering alternative treatments like ‘tit tar’ (tuina), acupuncture and cupping.

But all this begs two questions to the average believer – is TCM really effective or is it just hocus-pocus pseudo-science borne out of misguided traditions from an earlier, pre-scientific era? And the more important, deeper issue is – the foundation of TCM, namely qi, wuxing and yinyang are deeply rooted in Chinese spiritual and animistic history, what is the Christian response? Should we embrace it fully if we believe in its effectiveness? What does the Bible really say about it? Well, of course, you don’t have to be a biblical scholar to know that these concepts are not specifically mentioned in the Bible. But what is the implied hermeneutics? And does it all really matter, if it works to cure you of illnesses? Or at the polar opposite, if we believe it is all to be one step above common charlatanry, does it really matter to us Christians?

Let’s consider the first, somewhat easier question first. In the book, the author writes does a bang-up job (no pun intended) of introducing a brief history of Western (in which he terms as Galenic-Hippocratic tradition) medicine, primarily borne out of the Greek civilization. This history of medical discovery and treatment has evolved and expanded throughout the Christian world of Western Europe, so much so it was at a time deeply intertwined with religion. After the age of enlightenment, Western medicine started to distinguish itself as purely a scientific endeavour, based on logic, research, and empirical methods. The pinnacle of this journey was in the 1930s to 1960s with the discovery of drugs like penicillin, cortisone and procedures like anaesthesia and antisepsis. Today, researches are deep in the throes of a new frontier of biomedicine and nanotechnology, all thanks to the great tradition of the Greek patriarchs.

Then the author goes on to evaluate the parallel history of medicine from China. The journey here takes a decidedly different route, bounded by concepts introduced thousands of years and is more philosophical and symbolic compared to their western counterpart. But the key chapter midway through the book is the explanation of the metaphors and conception of health and illnesses in both traditions. Here the author breaks down the conceptual metaphors of western (ontological) and Chinese (philosophical) understanding of the human body. Through the eye-opening chapter, you can see where TCM derives its concepts from and how they deem to treat ailments.

The concepts of qi, wuxing and yinyang, and the many secondary concepts, are widely used and interpreted in TCM. The origins of these elements are lost in the sands of time, but in TCM, their implied symbolism is what’s important. Everything here is conceptual and symbolic, and is (literally) a world of difference from Western medicine.

So we return to the first question. Is it effective? The author, a Christian himself, says he cannot tell for certain. He gives examples of where it is effective and useful, and notes which areas that are dubious.

As for the second question of the Christian response, at the start of the book the author lays down clear markers on what he understands biblical interpretation to be. And in the final chapter, he summarizes his views on why, based on the markers, TCM is neutral in terms of spirituality, and why it should be pursued as an alternative form of treatment.

An excellent read on a subject many will find very interesting.


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