UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

The practice of Chinese medicine in the contemporary urban context : herbalism in Vancouver's Chinatown Kuprowsky, Stephan George


This thesis is an ethnographic study of the present day practice of traditional Chinese herbal medicine by the Chinese community of Vancouver, British Columbia. A qualitative research design was used to document the facilities, activities, people and beliefs involved in the practice of Chinese herbalism. A descriptive survey i s summarized for the 18 herbal pharmacies found in Vancouver's Chinatown. One herbal pharmacy is used as an example to provide a case study for the herbal products available and the interactions between the herbalist and the clientele. The thesis is organized around three key questions. The first concerns the social organization of traditional Chinese herbal knowledge in Vancouver. A tripartite model is used to conceptualize three distinct areas of expertise and knowledge of traditional herbalism in the Chinese community. These are the: (i) traditional Chinese herbal doctors; ( ii ) folk practitioners who are herbal pharmacists; ( iii ) family use of herbs in self-care. A major finding of the study was the central role the Chinese family plays in perpetuating the traditional use of herbs for both the prevention and treatment of disease. The second question attempts to determine how the practice of Chinese herbalism has changed due to its transplantation from Asia to Canada. The most significant difference was the minor role played by the traditional Chinese herbal doctor i n Vancouver compared to those in Hong Kong. The third question the thesis addresses is why "has Chinese herbalism persisted in a Western setting where everyone has free access to a government supported health care system. The author examines both ethnic and cultural explanations to understand the strength of the Chinese herbal tradition in Vancouver. Data on the efficacy of Chinese herbs on both physiological and cultural-symbolic levels is presented to demonstrate the viability of this healing system i n a contemporary context. The thesis concludes with a discussion on the complementarity between the Western and Chinese healing systems from both a practical and a theoretical perspective.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


For non-commercial purposes only, such as research, private study and education. Additional conditions apply, see Terms of Use https://open.library.ubc.ca/terms_of_use.