Medical pluralism in multi-ethnic Rebgong, Qinghai, People's Republic of China

This project examines traditional Tibetan medicine, Sowa Rigpa, and its co-existence with biomedicine in an area of historical and contemporary ethnic diversity in Qinghai province. 

About the project

Tibetan medicine, also called ‘Sowa Rigpa’, has in the last two decades developed into a flourishing industry not only in China, but also in India, Bhutan, and Mongolia. Supported and encouraged by these national governments, and in varying ways included in the public health system, Tibetan medicine has become a modern traditional medicine employed alongside biomedicine and other medicines. This project explores how Tibetan medicine, traditionally an ethnomedicine indigenous to Tibetan areas, travels across cultural boundaries in the multiethnic region Rebgong (Ch. Tongren) in Qinghai province, People’s Republic of China. Rebgong has a long history as a hub for Tibetan medicine, home to famous lineages of medical doctors and religious experts, and in more contemporary times, the location of a large Tibetan medical hospital serving patients from near and far. In this context of flourishing and modernizing traditional medicine, we focus on how Muslim Hui and Han Chinese citizens, as well as local Tibetans, use, understand and engage with Sowa Rigpa. We take the contemporary medical pluralism in Rebgong as a way to investigate classic themes in medical anthropology as it brings the study of ethnomedicine into the context of a reconfigured instrumentalized public health system. 


The object of this project is to generate new insight into local health-seeking behavior in a context of complex medical pluralism and ethnic diversity in Rebgong, Qinghai. 

Main objectives: 

  • To document the medical traditions available in Rebgong, and explore how are these perceived in relation to each other?
  • To map patients of differing religious and ethnic backgrounds’ motivations to, and experience with, seeking treatment from Tibetan doctors in Rebgong?
  • To analyse factors that affect health care decision-making and health care choices in Rebgong?
  • To analyse how patients from different backgrounds understand and translate the concepts and treatments in Tibetan medicine?


Network for University Cooperation Tibet-Norway

Published Nov. 9, 2018 1:51 PM - Last modified Nov. 12, 2018 10:59 AM


  • Heidi Fjeld
  • Nianggajia (Nyingkar gyal), Qinghai Minzu University
Detailed list of participants