Chinese Medicine in East Africa: An Intimacy with Strangers

How might a book on Chinese medicine in Africa contribute to the topic of “Reproductive labour”? Initial fieldwork pointed in direction of a traditional medicine being used, as common in the global north, for chronic conditions and palliative care, (e.g. HIV/AIDS), and post-colonial disorders, like “sugar” (diabetes) and “pressure” (hypertension). However, by looking not only at the patient-practitioner dyad in the clinical encounter, but by widening the ethnographic gaze to include the affordances of material culture items, with short-hand: ‘pots’ (furniture, drugs, medical equipment, etc.) as perceived as significant in different urban spatial textures (pots), the other as a concept seemed to guide people’s conduct.

Reproduction ensues from a union with the other, and interestingly, in part III in the book discussing pots, ‘pots’ , and pots, sexual-prowess-enhancing medicines for this union and beauty-enhancing procedures were found to be of great significance to some of the African clients seeking assistance from the exemplary other, which the Chinese experts were. Usually this phenomenon is considered as resulting from the rise of the post-colonial leisure industry and neoliberal economics. This plays a role too, no doubt, but this book tries to explain the changing socialities in terms of spatial textures, tactics of the everyday, and the propensity of things to explain how Chinese medical routines became empotted into urban East Africa.