Medicine and Memory in Tibet: Amchi Physicians in an Age of Reform (University of Washington Press, 2018) is the first full-length ethnography of Tibetan medical practitioners (amchi) in central Tibet working outside of major Tibetan medical institutions in Lhasa. Departing from extant ethnographies and scholarship on Tibetan medicine in the twentieth-century that often focus on institutions such as the Mentsikhang, Tibetan Medical College, and TAR Tibetan Pharmaceutical Factory, Theresia Hofer follows and traces the medical work of local Tibetan doctors in rural settings in Tsang and in Shigatse Town.
By centering on amchis who were not part of the Tibetan state-sponsored medical structures that were incorporated into the PRC socialist health care system in the 1950s, Hofer reveals perspectives and experiences that have been overlooked in national and institutional narratives. Drawing on literature addressing Tibetan amchis' memory and oral history in socialist and postsocialist contexts, Hofer also inquires into the social and political dynamics that influence memory and history-making, especially with regard to the violent past. Medicine and Memory in Tibet also consistently considers gender and aims to tackle the lack of understanding of gender in Tibetan medicine in the twentieth century. The perspectives of the amchis allow the inclusion of more women in the study of Tibetan medicine and uncover different subaltern histories of the Tibetan experience.
Medicine and Memory in Tibet demonstrates that amchis outside of major state-sponsored institutions have continued to contribute significantly to the survival and revival of Tibetan medicine and culture into the present day. Through the amchis' negotiations and agency within the new regime since the 1950s, Tibetan medicine was able to not only become an important health care resource for Tibetans and the state into the 1990s, it also became a stronghold for the preservation and revival of other aspects of Tibetan culture, language, and the local economy in contemporary China.
Daigengna Duoer is a Ph.D. student at the Religious Studies Department, University of California, Santa Barbara. Her dissertation is a digital humanities project mapping transnational and transregional Buddhist networks connecting twentieth-century Inner Mongolia, Manchuria, Republican China, Tibet, and the Japanese Empire.