The Newsletter 83 Summer 2019

In the spotlight: Cha-Hsuan Liu

The Absolute Sincerity

Currently I teach Multicultural Society, Health in Society, and Generations of Youth study at Utrecht University. This year, I am spending part of my time at IIAS as an affiliate fellow on the development of a research project. My previous research investigated the adequacy of healthcare provision for migrant groups and minorities, with a special focus on the Chinese minority in the Netherlands. It contributes to the development of theory and knowledge to mitigate health inequalities between ethnic or social-cultural groups in a multicultural society. The ancient Chinese physician, SUN Simiao (581–682AD), emphasised that a great physician should provide appropriate care to all with no discrimination. This ideology of the Absolute Sincerity has inspired me to further support healthcare professionals gain awareness of the discrepancy between the majority and the vulnerable groups.

Studying the diversity and disparity in healthcare involves multi- and interdisciplinary knowledge, such as modern medicine and healthcare provisions, public health, health psychology, health/medical anthropology, social policies, and cultural sociology. Despite the different types of research conducted, western researchers often tend to cite ‘cultural differences’ as the cause when health services cannot meet the needs of members of a minority. This proposition of ‘culture as excuse’ has motivated me to take a closer look at the subject matter, from three angles: the non-culture-specific factors at play, health beliefs, and the ‘cultural healing’. The concept of ‘cultural healing’ is especially interesting for further research. Supported by IIAS, I am cooperating with a senior researcher at Academia Sinica Taiwan to explore the opportunities of developing an international research group for the study of ‘cultural healing’ within the IIAS cultural heritage theme.

While modern medicine is generally accepted as the main healing method for mental and physical illnesses, many members of our societies still rely on ‘cultural healing practices’ in daily lives. Throughout history, cultures and societies have developed practices and attitudes that support individual wellbeing and social harmony. These ‘informal’ healing practices and attitudes towards health and treatments reflect both individual and collective beliefs on health and wellbeing. They are part of the cultural heritage of a society that shapes the relationship between people, as well as that with ourselves. In this context, a healthy life means not only the absence of illness, but also a balance with the self, society and the environment. Researchers in the health care arena often overlook this dimension, which is especially important within the polyethnic societies or states.

The hours I spend at IIAS – away from the intensity of teaching obligations – help me greatly to work out dissimilar ideas for such research, even though it is currently still in its conception phase. The stimulating IIAS lectures and activities open unexpected windows and doors, helping me to understand the world from different lenses. My resolution for the coming year is to link scholars worldwide and to write articles on the topic of the cultural healing under the inspiration and the support of IIAS fellows and staff.