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Needles, Herbs, Gods, and Ghosts

by: Linda Barnes

Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press 2005, Hardbound
ISBN: 0-674-01872-9

Reviewed by: Jacqueline M. Newman
Winter Volume: 2006 Issue: 13(4) page(s): 28

Subtitled: China Healing and the West to 1849, Barnes does one phenomenal job mixing scholarship with travelogue. She shows the way medicine, religion, race, and more can inform a Western understanding of Chinese healing beliefs and practices.

Her expertise and training as a medical anthropologist with a degree in comparative religion never bogs the reader down, the book's five chapters are enjoyable, lively, and lovely reading about how the west came in contact with China's healing practices and medicinal understandings. The fourth chapter titled: Sinophiles, Sinophobes, and the Cult of Chinoiserie concentrates on 1737-1804, and is a must read. It is here that we learn why Jesuit access to and reporting about China diminishes. It is here we also find citations we have longed for.

The book has a smattering of black and white half-tone pictures, some never before seen, all fascinating. The lively historical background helps understand Chinese health concepts, practices, and underpinnings. It aids in seeing how many are tweaked and twisted by modern folks who want beliefs that marry bucks. Barnes calls this encountering and interpreting...and sometimes their adopting of versions of China's early practices. We agree, and call her book a monumental look at belief aspects in early China.

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