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Special feature: Chinese Medicine: The Global Influence of an Evolving Heritage

Chinese Medicine and the Enticement of Heritage Status

Frédéric Obringer
Translated by N. Jayaram
p. 15-22


In November 2010, UNESCO included “Acupuncture and moxibustion as part of Chinese traditional medicine” on its Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Already in 2006, a national list of oral and intangible masterpieces of heritage was drawn up. Nine of them pertained to medicine and traditional pharmacopoeia. Since then, two other national lists have been compiled, containing medical elements. This article analyses the challenges of Chinese medicine’s “patrimonialisation” by retracing the discipline’s recent as well as much older history. Contents of different lists are examined in this perspective. Chinese medicine finds itself in a paradoxical situation, compared in practical terms with biomedicine, in perpetual reclassification, and held up for good or for bad reasons. Its inclusion in the cultural heritage list highlights many problematic issues, such as master-disciple transmission, vague teaching methods, questions as to the scientific nature or otherwise of its practices, and the industrialisation of its pharmacopoeia. In conclusion, questions may be raised over the link between protection and denaturation throughout the heritage designation process.

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Bibliographical reference

Frédéric Obringer, « Chinese Medicine and the Enticement of Heritage Status », China Perspectives, 2011/3 | 2011, 15-22.

Electronic reference

Frédéric Obringer, « Chinese Medicine and the Enticement of Heritage Status », China Perspectives [Online], 2011/3 | 2011, Online since 30 September 2014, connection on 18 January 2018. URL :

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About the author

Frédéric Obringer

CNRS researcher, Centre d’études sur la Chine moderne et contemporaine (Research Centre on Modern and Contemporary China), UMR 8173 (

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