Professor Volker Scheid
Professor of East Asian Medicines
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I am a scholar physician who combines the practice of Chinese and Japanese medicine with teaching and academic research. Growing up in a family engaged in the cultivation of medicinal herbs stimulated an almost natural interest in plant-based medicine that I pursued from the early 1980s onwards by studying first phytotherapy and acupuncture, and then Chinese and Japanese herbal medicine. Further studies led me to China, where I spent three years at Beijing and Shanghai Universities of Chinese medicine as well as studying privately with a number of well-known master physicians. In 1984, I opened my first practice in Eastbourne, which I maintained until 1999. Since then, I have practiced in London specialising in internal medicine and gynaecology.
Learning to be a Chinese medicine physician in the UK quickly confronted me with the multiple problems associated with seeking to translate an ancient medicine originating in a very different culture into contemporary health care systems. Seeking to understand and manage these complex processes of translation has been the focus of my academic career ever since.
During my undergraduate education at the School of African and Asian Studies, University of Sussex (BA, Hons 1992), I was able to gain the broad interdisciplinary grounding necessary for seeing through my long-term research interests. I was able to develop this further during my doctoral studies at the Department of Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge, which involved an extended period of fieldwork in China (PhD 1998). My doctoral dissertation has been published as Chinese Medicine in Contemporary China: Plurality and Synthesis (Duke University Press, 2002), which is widely acknowledged as the key study in the field.
I was able to extend my understanding of the historical development of Chinese medicine through a Wellcome Trust Postdoctoral Fellowship in the History of Medicine, at the School of Oriental and African Studies (1999-2002). There, I examined the recent history of Chinese medicine by following the development of an important medical current based in the Shanghai area. This resulted in the publication of Currents of Tradition in Chinese Medicine, 1626 - 2006 (Eastland Press, 2007), which has been hailed as one of the most important examinations of Chinese medicine as a "living tradition" in late imperial and modern China.
Since coming to the University of Westminster in 2005, initially through a prestigious DoH Career Development Grant, I have established the EASTmedicine (East Asian Sciences and Traditions in Medicine) Research Centre. EASTmedicine is a unique interdisciplinary research centre that aims to facilitate dialogue and debate among scholars in the medical humanities, the social and natural sciences as well as clinical researchers and to develop innovative research agendas in the field. Since its inception EASTmedicine has attracted almost 2 million pounds in research grants attesting to its influence and potential.
In 2012, I was awarded one of the first Senior Investigator Awards in the Medical Humanities by the Wellcome Trust. The Award will allow me to focus on a sustained period of research over the coming years and further develop the work of the EASTmedicine Centre.
East Asian medicines are living traditions. Tradition refers to the cultivation and passing on of knowledge and skills. In my own practice I have benefitted from having been able to study with a number of exceptional teachers. Lecturing and writing are part of my own efforts at giving something back to the life and continuity of the tradition of which I am a part.
I mainly teach postgraduates in Chinese medicine. My goal in teaching is to facilitate access to the various currents of the East Asian medical tradition and to encourage students to engage with them in a critical manner. I attempt to make medical history come alive, and to show how drawing on how the understanding of history enables more effective clinical practice.
At the University of Westminster I teach on the MSc in Chinese Herbal Medicine. I also supervise PhD students and seek to support postdoctoral researchers in their career development.
Besides my work at the University, I regularly give invited lectures at schools and conferences throughout the world.
Another way through which I aim to contribute to the transmission of East Asian medicine is through the writing of textbooks and articles, such as the
published by Eastland Press (2009), the standard textbook on Chinese medical formulas in the English speaking world.
If my medical practice is informed by knowledge of East Asian medical cultures and their history, my academic research benefits from understanding how this medicine is actually practiced. It is focused on the historical development of the scholarly medical traditions in East Asia, their encounter with the West in the 20th century, and their current diffusion throughout the world. This encompasses wider interests in the nature of medicine and science, the role of China and East Asia in the world, as well as the interrogation of tradition, modernity and globalisation and their conjunction to diverse cultures, different kinds of knowledge and a multitude of technologies. My approach to these problems is interdisciplinary and shaped by diverse genealogies. If it needs a label, then the cultural studies of science, technology, and medicine will do.
EASTmedicine Research Group
I am Director of the EASTmedicine Research Group. For more information on the work of the Centre, current projects and researchers please see https://www.westminster.ac.uk/eastmedicine-research-group
Trina Ward (2005-2011, part-time): Exploring the diversity of Chinese Medicine practice; a Q-methodology study
Claudia Citkovitz (2010-2014, full-time): Which patients experience benefit from addition of acupuncture to standard post-stroke rehabilitation care? A mixed methods inquiry.
Guy Waddell (2011-2015, full-time): A multi-sited ethnography of the treatment of stress and mood affected disorders by medical herbalists in the UK
Sabine Glatz (2015-2019, full-time): The emergent interface between Chinese medicine and systems biology: a multi-sited ethnography