Zhan Mei: "Into the Woods—making things and worlds through 'wuxing'"

Departmental Seminar Series features Mei Zhan, Associate professor of anthropology at the University of California, Irvine.

The seminar is followed by informal gathering, at which refreshments are served. All are welcome!

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Photo: University of California, Irvine


In recent years, a small but growing cluster of startup firms in China has been promoting a new kind of “classical medicine” by pitching it against the institutionalized, scientized and secularized Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).  Central to their efforts is the re-centering of classical analytics that are marginalized in TCM for being superstitious, backward, or simply inconsistent with the materialist worldview. The concept of wuxing (commonly translated as “five elements,” “five phases,” or “five agents” of wood, fire, earth, metal and water) is an analytic that has been reanimated not only to conceptualize a new classical medicine, but in doing so also to experiment in nonmodern ways of thinking, doing, and being—that is, how to critically inhabit and even thrive in a profoundly disharmonious modern world.  Irreducible to substance, metaphor, or thing-power, wuxingas an immanent analytic also compels us anthropologists to examine our own analytical habits, and to co-imagine multiplicitous forms of materiality beyond the grip of ontology or epistemology.

Research profile

Associate Professor Mei Zhan conducts research in the areas of medical anthropology, science and technology studies, globalization and transnationalism, and China studies. She has published numerous scholarly articles, and her book, Other-Worldly: Making Chinese Medicine through Transnational Frames, was published by Duke University Press in 2009. Mei Zhan conducted field research on the "worlding" of traditional Chinese medicine in Shanghai and the San Francisco Bay Area from 1995 to 2005. This multi-sited research focused on the processes of interaction, rupture, and displacement in the translocal formation of knowledges, identities, and communities.

Professor Zhan is currently working on an ethnographic project on China’s emergent knowledge economy, investigating the rise of a new "classical Chinese medicine" through medical entrepreneurship in cosmopolitan China. Further information: UCI Anthropology

Published July 15, 2019 1:31 PM - Last modified Sep. 12, 2019 5:11 PM