The Enigma Concerning Dr. Tsungming Tu’s Research in Traditional East Asian Medicine: On the Creation of Value in Integrative Medicine

Author Info
Sean Hsiang-lin Lei
Associate Research Fellow, Institute of Modern History, Academia Sinica TAIWAN and Institute of Science, Technology and Society, Yangming University

This article intends to solve a pair of salient enigmas in the history of medicine in modern Taiwan: Why did Dr. Tsungming Tu, a widely acclaimed representative of medical modernity in Taiwan, provide consistent support to research in traditional East Asian medicine?  Reversely, why has Dr. Tu’s research vision long been criticized as backward-looking and even anti-science?  This article argues that Dr. Tu’s research vision aimed at creating breakthroughs in at least the following four dimensions: first, Tu promoted the funding of “experimental therapeutics,” a disciple that did not exist in Japan proper, let along in colonial  Taiwan; second, he promoted the study of traditional East Asian medicine with experimental therapeutics, which constituted a radical break from the pharmaceutical tradition; third, he intended to build a research-oriented hospital, which was unheard of in contemporary East Asia; and fourth, in studying traditional medicinals, he suggested adopting the “reversed-order methodology,” which started with clinical trials on the human body and therefore was widely criticized as violating the scientific and ethical code.  Instead of being conservative or anti-science, Dr. Tu’s research program challenged the established boundaries of scientific research as he aimed to develop its frontier. Moreover, his vision challenged the entrenched great divide between modernity and traditional East Asian medicine. 

Drawing on Tu’s innovative research design, this paper develops a general model for understanding the dynamics of integrative medicine.  It demonstrates that the two conventional positions --“respect and preserve the authenticity of traditional medicine” and “dissolve traditional medicine through scientific integration”—are just the two polarized extremes.  Between these two mutually exclusive positions, a whole spectrum of possibilities exists for integrating East Asian medicine with biomedicine, possibilities that I would characterize as the “creation of value.”

Taiwanese Journal for Studies of Science, Technology and Medicine, Number 11 (October 2010 ), 201 -286