The Dilemma Posed by Minority Medical Traditions in Pluralist Societies: The Case of China and Canada

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Cultural Pluralism, Medical Pluralism, Health Care, Shamanism, China, Canada


Pluralistic societies such as China and Canada frequently find themselves pursuing potentially contradictory goals. China's contradiction results from a desire to preserve cultural diversity while eliminating ‘backward tendencies’ which work against the economic and social development of the country as a whole. Canada's contradiction results from a desire to preserve cultural diversity while maintaining an emphasis upon equality of rights and responsibilities for all Canadians. Behind these differences in ideology, however, is a more basic structural contradiction ‐ namely, that cultural pluralism, while considered an asset as long as it is restricted to preserving unique cultural traditions, is nevertheless a threat to a strong central government if interpreted to imply the power to set policy at the local level. To explore this issue, this article compares China and Canada in terms of three related topics. First, it briefly examines the multicultural policy of China and Canada. This is followed by a discussion of medical pluralism in China and Canada, with an emphasis upon the health of minority groups and the status of minority healing traditions. Finally, common perceptions of shamanic healing traditions in both China and Canada are considered. It is in relation to shamanism that the dilemma posed by cultural pluralism is most clearly delimited.