The modern popularity of acupuncture and herbal medicine belies the long history of Chinese medicine in the U.S. In Herbs and Roots: A History of Chinese Doctors in the American Medical Marketplace
(Yale University Press, 2019), Tamara Venit-Shelton
(Claremont McKenna College) examines the historical contexts that shaped perceptions of traditional Chinese medicine from the colonial period to the present. Venit-Shelton draws from court records, material culture, census records, oral interviews, and newspapers to uncover the multi-faceted roles that Chinese herbalists played in both Chinese and non-Chinese communities during the “long Progressive Era.”
Through self-Orientalizing presentations, these health practitioners enterprisingly navigated, accommodated, and resisted waves of rising xenophobia and medical regulation. After a period of struggle between the 1930s and 1970s when depression and war disrupted supply chains, Chinese medicine made a roaring comeback even as increasing numbers of Chinese Americans trained in Western medicine, leading to the rise of integrative medicine. Herbs and Roots
deepens our understanding of histories of medicine and public health, American Orientalism, Asian immigration to the US, and the environment and ideas of nature.
Ian Shin is assistant professor of History and American Culture at the University of Michigan.