Double Chinese-Western incomprehension

Chinese medicine is an exciting field, it had motivated my decision to learn Chinese, but the whirlwind of life took me away. I came across Eric Marié’s enlightening videos, and one of them evokes the misunderstandings between two worlds, China and the Western world.

The professor explains the 17th-century reaction of Chinese doctors to Western anatomical charts and representations of the human body, as well as Western perceptions of Chinese achievements.

chinese anatomy human body chinese acupuncture

Western reactions

The Chinese illustrations come from a treatise on acupuncture and moxibustion -針灸大成- published in 1601. The first plate shows the system of organs and bowels, and the second shows the distribution of the meridian system in the human body. Westerners thought that the Chinese knew absolutely nothing about anatomy, that the distribution of organs was unrealistic and inconsistent, that they were very bad at figurative drawing. On the second image, they saw an orangutan instead and fond the proportions used ridiculous with lines and dots that did not correspond to anything.

human skeleton human body anatomy human skeleton human body anatomy

Chinese reactions

The western anatomical plates came from a famous physician’s work to the French kings, Ambroise Paré, from the end of the 16th century. The Chinese saw a skeleton in a garden and a lively skinned man and did not understand how a man without skin, without flesh, could be alive and working. They found these patterns absurd and concluded that Westerners knew nothing about the human body and medicine.
Both sides abandoned the representations of the other.

Double incomprehension

The Chinese didn’t make an anatomical chart but made an explanatory diagram. In the absence of a real dialogue, this double misunderstanding has persisted, and there is still a part of Western medicine that does not recognize the interest of Chinese medicine.

In all fields

This episode is one example of misunderstanding between the two worlds, and no area is spared, even at the political level. I have spoken several times on a Western arrogance subject that quickly thinks it knows what China is like. This lack of humility sometimes leads to glaring failures. At the political level, the United States has long believed in certain Chinese docility, see the article on the lost bet. A White House adviser acknowledged that the policy towards China was the biggest fiasco since the 1930s. Are these misunderstandings not due to human nature? When the ego gets involved, the same misunderstandings exist between two people from the same family, two friends, two colleagues, two neighbours, and many others.

Article on the speech of the White House Counselor

Video of Eric Marié

13 July 2020

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