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Mongolia and Inner Asia Studies Unit




Stephan Kloos

Institute for Social Anthropology,  Austrian Academy of Sciences

Re-appraising Mongolian Medicine: communism, continuity, and a bigger picture

Critical historical and ethnographic scholarship on Mongolian medicine remains scarce, and the little that exists tends to be dated, partial, and biased. In this paper, I will attempt a re-appraisal of Mongolian medicine, in terms of 1) its older history and classification, 2) its development over the past century, particularly during communism, and 3) its contemporary status and situation. The aim is to contextualize it more broadly in historical, political-geographical, and conceptual terms than has been done so far, and establish Mongolian medicine as a timely and productive field of research.

After a brief overview of Mongolian medicine’s premodern history as a regional branch of Tibetan medicine, I will trace its radical reassemblage under communist rule in the 20th century, which culminated in its industrialization and contemporary resurgence. Using data from Mongolia, Inner Mongolia, and Buryatia, I argue that contemporary Mongolian medicine is best understood as a “pharmaceutical assemblage” shaped by various processes of de- and reterritorialization, bringing together seemingly incompatible elements such as Buddhism and communism or “traditional medicine” and “modern science” in a new form.


Stephan Kloos is the Acting Director of the Institute for Social Anthropology at the Austrian Academy of Sciences. He has worked for over 20 years on the larger role and development of Sowa Rigpa in India, China, and more recently also Mongolia and Buryatia. His work has been published in leading journals like Current Anthropology, Social Science and Medicine, or Medical Anthropology, and he is the co-editor of two books, Healing at the Periphery (Duke University Press 2022) and Asian Medical Industries (Routledge 2022).


In-person seminar taking place at the Mond seminar room (limited number of attendees) and live streamed via zoom – please contact should you wish to attend and for further information.

Tuesday, 25 January, 2022 - 16:30 to 18:00
Event location: 
Mond Building Seminar Room, Free School Lane, Cambridge CB2 3RF