Their Footprints Remain: Biomedical Beginnings Across the Indo-Tibetan Frontier

Biomedical Beginnings Across the Indo-Tibetan Frontier

Alex McKay

Alex McKay

Distributed for Amsterdam University Press

By the end of the 19th century, British imperial medical officers and Christian medical missionaries had introduced Western medicine to Tibet, Sikkim, and Bhutan. Their Footprints Remain uses archival sources, personal letters, diaries, and oral sources in order to tell the fascinating story of how this once-new medical system became imbedded in the Himalayas. Of interest to anyone with an interest in medical history and anthropology, as well as the Himalayan world, this volume not only identifies the individuals involved and describes how they helped to spread this form of imperialist medicine, but also discusses its reception by a local people whose own medical practices were based on an entirely different understanding of the world.



List of Maps and Tables





Regional scope

Significance of the period

The historical context of medicine in the Tibetan world

Sources; primary and secondary


The Indian Medical Service and the Subordinate

Medical Service

Frontier medicine


1. Missionary Medicine and the Rise of Kalimpong

Early missionary approaches to Tibet through the western Himalayas

Darjeeling and the development of Kalimpong

The Church of Scotland Mission

Dr. Shelton and the eastern Tibetan frontier


2. Sikkim: Imperial Stepping-stone to Tibet

Sikkimese traditional medicine

Missionary medicine in Sikkim

State development of biomedicine

Health conditions in Sikkim

The post-colonial generation

The modern Sikkimese medical world


3. Biomedicine and Buddhist Medicine in Tibet

Missionary beginnings

Early Western medicine in Tibet

Medical work on the Younghusband mission (1903-04)

The Gyantse dispensary
Issues of race and class

Smallpox vaccination in Tibet

4. Medical myths and Tibetan trends

The myth of veneral disease in Tibet

Accepting biomedicine in Tibet

Biomedicine at Lhasa

Biomedicine from other nations

Cultural perspectives and concessions

Post-colonial developments

5. Bhutan: A Later Development

Visits by IMS officers

Maharajas and missionaries

The colonial period: Some conclusions

Post-colonial developments

Structures and diseases in Bhutanese public health

Medical ethics: A shared belief?

Bhutanese traditional medicine

6. The Choice of Systems

An absence of hegemony

Availability and cost as factors in medical resort

Nationalist factors in resort

Monastic competition and the rise of a new elite class

The importance of education

World views, process, and biomedicine

Patient choice


Process, policy, and resort

“Enclavism” and “resistance”

Intermediaries and patrons


Ethics and standards

Appendix: Attendance at Gyantse and Yatung IMS dispensaries

Civil Dispensary: Gyantse




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