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Evidence-Based Alternative, ‘Slanted Eyes’ and Electric Circuits: Doing Chinese Medicine in the Post/Socialist Czech Republic

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Abstract

This chapter analyses concurrences and conflicts of three partially connected versions of Chinese medicine (CM) as it has been enacted in changing geopolitical, social and economic circumstances in the Czech Republic, namely: (1) ‘medical acupuncture’, institutionalised in the socialist Czechoslovakia as a specialisation within the state’s biomedical healthcare system, (2) a dissident CM practised since the 1960s by individual doctors who embraced the epistemologically distinctive theory of health and disease of ‘traditional’ CM and which, after 1989, became institutionalised at private schools and clinics while marginalised by the biomedical establishment, and (3) a state-supported version of CM that has been imported to the country since 2013 as a pillar of the revived economic and political cooperation between the Czech Republic and China as a rising global power.

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Fig. 2.1

Notes

  1. 1.

    A note on terminology. In this chapter, we use the term Chinese medicine (CM) to mean the generic notion most often used in scholarly literature. We talk about ‘ TCM’ (from ‘Traditional Chinese Medicine’ ) to refer to the version of CM exported currently worldwide by the Chinese state. Later, we will introduce ‘traditional CM’ and ‘medical acupuncture’ to denote two other versions of CM in the CR that we will extensively discuss in this chapter. As we will show these versions are to some extent related but are also significantly different in some respects.

  2. 2.

    Our fieldwork involves participant observation in a thriving private CM clinic that we refer to here as ‘Zdraví’ and in the private surgery of a GP who uses various CAM treatments including CM in her practice. We also participated in a number of meetings and events connected with the Czech-Chinese initiative in the current top-down introduction of TCM into the CR. We attended a two-semester course in CM for medical students at a public university, and we conducted over 30 interviews with Czech CM practitioners, representatives of the Czech Chamber of TCM , healthcare managers and officials involved in the Czech-Chinese initiative, and CM patients. Our efforts to grasp current developments also include a close reading of relevant legal and policy documents and of the debates on the subject in the media. We present data from observation and research interviews in anonymised form.

  3. 3.

    Originally part of the Physiatrist Society during socialism, Czech Medical Acupuncture Society (CMAS) was granted an independent status within the Czech Medical Association of J. E. Purkyně, the main self-governing and voluntary association of professional societies in Czech biomedicine, shortly after 1989. In the first half of the 1990s, with a few thousand members, it was one of the five largest societies within the Association. With the new law in 1997 that removed acupuncture from the services covered under public health insurance, together with various criticisms from within the Czech Medical Association and also from outside (mainly from an influential club of ‘sceptics’ called ‘Sisyfos’, combating ‘irrationality’ and ‘pseudoscience’ in Czech science and medicine), CMAS was forced in 2002 to close two of its most scientifically contentious divisions: for electroacupunture and auriculotherapy. In their place, CMAS established a new department for ‘the study of diagnostics and therapy in acupuncture and related techniques using research based on EBM’ (Pára 2006b: 6). After that, the number of members of the CMAS dropped significantly; currently, CMAS has around 500 members.

  4. 4.

    See also the Czechoslovak public television commercial from 1982 promoting the home use of Stimul 3 and providing information about its production on an industrial scale, available at http://www.ceskatelevize.cz/ivysilani/10116288585-archiv-ct24/215411058210004/obsah/376504-stimul-3-elektroakupunktura-1982 (accessed on 5 February 2017).

  5. 5.

    In addition, Act No. 95/2004 Coll., on the Conditions for the Acquisition and Recognition of the Professional Qualifications of Doctor, Dentist, and Pharmacist, and Act No. 96/2004 Coll., on the Conditions for the Acquisition and Recognition of the Professional Qualifications of Non-Medical Healthcare Professions, both stipulate that only a person with a biomedical degree can provide medical services that puncture the surface of the skin (such as acupuncture).

  6. 6.

    In January 2017, Pojišťovna VZP, a. s., established in 2004 as a subsidiary company of the biggest public health insurance company in the country, offering commercial insurance of foreigners, announced it would newly cover TCM services provided by Beijing Tong Ren Tang Czech Republic SE (Pojišťovna VZP, a. s. 2017). This might be seen as a pilot step testing the possibilities of TCM coverage by the public health insurance.

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Acknowledgements

Work on the chapter was supported by grant no. 15-16452S awarded by the Czech Science Foundation. We would like to thank the editors of this volume for their invaluable comments on earlier versions of this chapter.

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Stöckelová, T., Klepal, J. (2018). Evidence-Based Alternative, ‘Slanted Eyes’ and Electric Circuits: Doing Chinese Medicine in the Post/Socialist Czech Republic. In: Brosnan, C., Vuolanto, P., Danell, JA. (eds) Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Health, Technology and Society. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-73939-7_2

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-73939-7_2

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