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Gathering Medicines

Nation and Knowledge in China’s Mountain South

Gathering Medicines

Nation and Knowledge in China’s Mountain South

In the early 2000s, the central government of China encouraged all of the nation’s registered minorities to “salvage, sort, synthesize, and elevate” folk medical knowledges in an effort to create local health care systems comparable to the nationally supported institutions of traditional Chinese medicine. Gathering Medicines bears witness to this remarkable moment of knowledge development while sympathetically introducing the myriad therapeutic traditions of southern China.
Over a period of six years, Judith Farquhar and Lili Lai worked with seven minority nationality groups in China’s southern mountains, observing how medicines were gathered and local healing systems codified. Gathering Medicines shares their intimate view of how people understand ethnicity, locality, the body, and nature. This ethnography of knowledge diversities in multiethnic China is a testament to the rural wisdom of mountain healers, one that theorizes, from the ground up, the dynamic encounters between formal statist knowledge and the popular authority of the wild.

304 pages | 5 halftones, 3 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2021

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology

Asian Studies: General Asian Studies

History of Science

Sociology: Medical Sociology, Race, Ethnic, and Minority Relations


"Gathering Medicines offers important empirical, conceptual, and methodological insights into what it means to practice and theorize medicine within the geographical borders of the People’s Republic of China today."


"A well-written account of often-charming, sometimes moving encounters with healers diligently trying to record disappearing ways of knowing and curing sickness. Ideal for anyone interested in history and local traditions of medicine in China."

Choice Connect

"Gathering Medicines offers an immensely valuable and sensitive account of health and medical practices in regions that have rarely been explored in academic literature."

Asian Medicine

“In Gathering Medicines, Farquhar and Lai offer a remarkably wide range of observations and reflections on the anthropology and history of medicine as a living social practice in southern China. They weave into their discussion a fascinating array of life histories and object narratives, a rich assortment of institutional sites and both textual and nonliterate practices, and an abundance of self-critical reflections on methodology and meaning. This is a major, pathbreaking piece of scholarship, indicative of the highest-quality research and analysis.”

David Arnold, University of Warwick

Gathering Medicines is an ethnography of epistemology at its best. Unpacking words and things, collecting and feeling plants, the authors thread relentlessly through depth and density to craft their book, a multidimensional object at its core.”

Marisol de la Cadena, University of California, Davis

“Experienced anthropologists Farquhar and Lai have written a philosophically sophisticated ethnography of today’s China caught in the act of constructing ‘minority nationality medicines,’ a set of complex, always changing, social, and epistemological things.”

Nathan Sivin, University of Pennsylvania

Table of Contents



Chapter 1 Institution

Chapter 2 Knowledge

Chapter 3 Bodies

Chapter 4 Plants

Chapter 5 Encounters

Conclusions, and Then Some . . .

Appendix: The Emphasis on “Three Ways and Two Roads” in Zhuang Medicine and Pharmacy

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