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Distributed for National University of Singapore Press

Vietnamese Traditional Medicine

A Social History

Medical manuscripts in Chinese and in Nom (vernacular Vietnamese) capture various aspects of the historical interaction between Chinese and Vietnamese thought. In Vietnamese Traditional Medicine: A Social History, Michele Thompson argues that indigenous Vietnamese concepts regarding health and the human body helped shape Vietnam’s reception of foreign medical ideas and practices, first from China and then from the West. To illustrate this theme, she presents a detailed analysis of the Vietnamese response to a Chinese medical technique for preventing smallpox, and to the medical concepts associated with it, looking at Vietnamese healers from a variety of social classes.


Thompson’s account brings together colorful historical vignettes, contemporary observations and interviews, and textual analysis. One particularly instructive episode was Jean Marie Despiau’s 1820‒21 journey from Vietnam to Macau to secure doses of smallpox vaccine to vaccinate the royal children of the Nguyen Dynasty. The documentation associated with Despiau’s effort provides insight into the Vietnamese receptiveness to one foreign medical technique and the concepts of the body associated with it.


200 pages | 6 x 9

Asian Studies: Southeast Asia and Australia

Media Studies

Sociology: Social History

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“The real focus, and strength, of this work is its attention to the uses of language in medical texts, which tells us about more about the linguistic strategies and theoretical underpinnings of traditional Vietnamese medicine than it tells us about the social contexts in which this medicine was being practiced, received, and transmitted over time.”

Social History of Medicine

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