S2-F: Chinese Medicine in Africa

By now there are more than 16.000 Chinese medical doctors in Mali, which are an integral part of the Malian health care system since the 1960s. In contrast to their counterparts from France and Russia the Chinese learned Bambara and were able to communicate with their Malian patients and colleagues. The research project is particularly interested in the interaction between the Chinese medical doctors and the Malian health personal (nurses, and administrative staff). Do the Doctors only rely on skills and technologies imported from their home country (both traditional Chinese and western medicine) or did they also acquire local medical knowledge? Where and when are they practicing traditional Chinese medicine and in which cases are they relying on western medicine?

In the past health care in Mali was state-owned, but since the late 1980s it is increasingly privatised. Chinese doctors and healers play a crucial part in this process. Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is popularized by ambulant specialist, providing their services on the streets. This is raising questions about (who these people are,) about their professional and cultural background and of the background of the clients.

In contemporary South Africa Chinese medicine is not only practised within the Chinese community. It is also accepted as an alternative medicine among the urban middle class. In addition, Chinese medicine shows certain parallels to the praxis of African herbal doctors and “traditional” healers. But the level where medical traditions come together is completely different: Pharmaceutical companies from South Africa, the West and Asia try to systematize, analyze and capitalize the knowledge about local drugs. In this regard we are particularly interested in the cooperation of Chinese and South African companies.

Two areas will be researched with anthropological methods:

  1. Doctors, healers and patients: which specialist is consulted under which circumstances? Where are the boundaries and where are overlaps? Is there a change in the perception of Chinese (medical) influence? Which elements of Chinese medicine find their way into the traditional African medicine and how?
  2. Chinese pharmacist are actively bioprospecting in South Africa? We are interested in the different modes of cooperation between Africans and Asians and the structures used by the companies and their representatives?

We expect similarities and differences in our results from Mali and South Africa. The findings will give us insights into the patterns of Chinese engagement and the historical and cultural frame of the Asian influence in Africa.

Involvierte AFRASO Mitglieder: 


AFRASO Publications


Talks and Lectures

Diawara, Mamadou ; The Time-Tested Traditionist: Intellectual Trajectory and Mediation from the Early Empires to the Present Day. Landscapes, Sources and Intellectual Projects: Politics, History and the West African Past ; Thursday, November 12, 2015 to Saturday, November 14, 2015 ; Department of African Studies and Anthropology (DASA) and Centre of West African Studies (CWAS), University of Birmingham
Diawara, Mamadou ; The Call of the ‘Bush’: Malian Migrants on their Way to Asia ; Wednesday, March 12, 2014 ; Kuala Lumpur
Diawara, Mamadou ; Seeing like scholars. Whose exile? Making a life in being at home and abroad ; Wednesday, March 25, 2015 ; Kapstadt
Gruber, Matthias ; Mobilität als Lebensentwurf – Migration und Integration asiatischer Handler in Südafrika ; Friday, March 6, 2015 ; Goethe University, Frankfurt
Gruber, Matthias ; It’s not all about the money: Life-worlds of Chinese Traders in South Africa ; Tuesday, March 11, 2014 ; Kuala Lumpur
Gruber, Matthias ; Brokerage in Johannesburg ; Sunday, December 14, 2014 ; Guangzhou
Gruber, Matthias ; Beyond business. An incomplete portrait of a Chinese businesswoman in Johannesburg. ; Friday, May 16, 2014 to Thursday, March 31, 2016 ; Frankfurt a. M.
Gruber, Matthias ; Between Africa and China: Young Chinese entrepreneurs in Johannesburg, South Africa ; Thursday, December 18, 2014 ; Peking University
Gruber, Matthias ; Being a “New Chinese” in Johannesburg ; Tuesday, March 24, 2015 ; Kapstadt
Diawara, Mamadou ; Asien in Afrika, WiSe 2014/15
Diawara, Mamadou ; Asia as Horizon and Home for West Africans from the 1980s ; Saturday, August 8, 2015 ; Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study
Diawara, Mamadou ; (Dis-)connections in Histories of African Studies on the Continent and Beyond, ; Friday, July 10, 2015 ; Sorbonne, Paris