OPINION | Western world whitewashes, exploits Eastern medicine

Ritisha Sharma, Intersections Editor

Eastern medicine is one of many minority practices being colonized for profit. (Paige Douglass)

Eastern medicine has fought for its legitimacy since the rise of Western medicine. 

Eastern or Traditional Chinese Medicine is the world’s oldest codified system of medicine, but since the ancient methods of studying medicine did not line up with modern science or Christianity, their practices were voided by the modern world.

Unlike the strict schooling structure of Western medicine, TCM knowledge was passed on through apprenticeships and family members until the 1950s when they took up a more formal training. 

It is clear that TCM has evolved to fit in with Western medical practices, as they have begun to conduct clinical trials to test their ancient practices and their effectiveness in a scientific setting. Since 2015, over 1000 clinical trials related to TCM had been registered on clinicaltrials.gov.  

However, with each successful trial, the Western world took away the cultural significance of that practice and found a way to profit from it.

Acupuncture is one of the most famous TCM practices, yet, in America, more than 50% of acupuncturists are white, which is more than double the number of Chinese practitioners. The majority of patients that seek out acupuncture therapy are white as well.

These statistics are a result of the constant discrimination against minorities that choose to practice their traditional ways in America. A Chinese woman practicing TCM is seen as backward and uneducated, whereas a white woman practicing TCM is seen as open-minded and worldly even though they both possess the same basis of knowledge.

The only difference lies in their ethnicity.

This phenomenon often leads people of color in America to pursue Western instead of Eastern medicine in order to be taken more seriously by their peers.

This circumstance also applies to patients. A Chinese woman seeking out TCM practices is criticized for not choosing to seek out a western alternative, while a white woman is more likely to be rewarded for being inclusive.

In today’s social media era and the obsession to be unique while fitting in, the whitewashing of TCM has taken off.

A prime example of this is the gua sha trend that swept social media last year. Marketed as an instrument to slim and tone one’s face, gua shas originated in TCM where they are used to alleviate muscle soreness, pain, some illnesses and increase blood flow. 

Focused on the highly profitable beauty industry, once companies and influencers caught wind of this tool, it was everywhere. 

A majority of white-owned companies turn such ancient practices into disposable forms of aesthetic expression while ignoring the significance of their origins. 

This does not just lead to cultural appropriation but also the colonization of minority practices due to the lack of proper accreditation. 

TCM is quickly becoming one of the leading alternative medicines practiced in the United States. In light of this, it is important that we support Asian-owned businesses as they choose to share their cultures with us instead of mainstream brands that are commodifying cultural practices.