Thursday, December 29, 2011

Tradtional Chinese Medicine: Skeptically approaching a Skeptical history

I was recently asked what I thought about this skeptical piece on the history of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) in the USA,:
Dunning, Brian. "Mao's Barefoot Doctors: The Secret History of Chinese Medicine." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media, Inc., 24 May 2011. Web. 29 Dec 2011.
Unfortunately, I found it full of inaccuracies and misconceptions. I wish skeptics would be more careful of their facts when they try to correct misunderstandings. And I wish other skeptics would be more careful of their facts when reading their works.

To Allan and others,

I've now read the skeptoid report your mention. I'm afraid I do not consider it a reliable description of  the history of traditional Chinese medicine either in the West or in Asia.

Three big problems (IMHO).

1) He overstates the condition of Western (allopathic) medicine in urban China during the time period he discusses. China has always had a shortage of  doctors trained in modern medicine. I'm not sure if they do now or not. I'd need to find reliable sources (and I don't trust the PRC gov't.) Also since the Chinese system includes MDs with three styles of training (Western style with a post-graduate MD degree, as well as those with basically a four or five year bachelor's style MD degree) you'd have to be careful to define what you're measuring exactly.

2) He ignores the political atmosphere that led to the rise (and perhaps end) of the "barefoot doctor" phenomena. (It was in part an attempt by Mao to undermine the influence of Western trained or influenced intellectuals who happened to be working in healthcare.)

3) He ignores the entire history of Chinese traditional healthcare systems prior to the time period he discusses.

In short, although I am not familiar with other works by the author, I don't think this one is terribly helpful for those trying to understand these things. You might try seeing my article, and perhaps more importantly the shorter, earlier article that is in the reference list to this article.

Peter Huston

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Refugee Stuff, Burmese Names, Part Four, Naming Practices in General and a Brief Introduction to Burma

Naming Practices in General

Naming practices are studied and like most fields of study have even taken on their own terminology. For instance, although the study of names and naming is commonly referred to as “onomastics,” one source refers to the study of names and naming practices within anthropology as “anthroponymy.” (Moore, J.H.) Scholars discuss issues such as the degree of individuation versus collectivization in a culture's naming practices. In other words, do names within a culture emphasize an individual's connection to others, such as clan or family, or instead completely differentiate and distinguish them from other members of their society? (Collier & Bricker)

Within cultures names tend to be divisible into certain categories. Some of this categorization appears in the names of refugees from Burma.

In most cultures of Burma, names derive from something positive with people being given names whose origin lies in something admirable or positive in their culture. Examples of this will be given below for both Burman and Karen cultures. (Emeneau)

Theophoric names are names whose origins lie in religious beliefs or practices. (Emeneau) These are common among the peoples of Burma from all major religions including Buddhists, Christians and Muslims. While Christians and Muslims often take names from their religious traditions, often modified for local pronunciation, and use them as either a primary or secondary name, in Buddhists often tie the structure of their name to the Burmese astrological system. For instance the first syllable of a Burmese Buddhists name is chosen to conform to a specific system grounded within eight divisions. (The Burmese week is divided into seven days but for astrological purposes Wednesday is divided into two halves, early and late, making eight divisions within the week.) Buddhist monks and nuns, including persons who enter the monastery for a limited time, a common practice within Burmese culture, take a special name which is grounded in Pali, an important ritual language in Burmese-style Theravada Buddhism. This monastic name also conforms to the sound system specified within Burmese Buddhism. Additionally some Pali words have become common names in Burman culture. (i.e. “Sanda” means “moon” in Pali, but is a possible name for Burman and Karen people.) (Interview.)

Apotropaic names are names based on undesirable or unattractive things. Although common in some cultures, I know of no examples of such names in the cultures of Burma. (Although this is not to say that they do not exist. One thing that a person interested in Burma learns quickly is that Burma is a very complex and confusing place.)

An Introduction to the nation of Burma (Myanmar)

Burma is a large and troubled nation in southeast Asia. It is bordered by India and Bangladesh to the west, by China to the north, and Thailand and Laos to the east. Although they do not border each other, many refugees who flee the country spend time in Malaysia located to the south and relatively easy to reach by ocean or air travel. For reasons that are complex and will be covered later in this paper the nation is also known as Myanmar. There is great controversy, as well as significance, over the choice of name used.

Estimates of the population of Burma vary but tend to range between 45 and 65 million. A former British colony, the nation was given independence in 1949 although a successful, stable, functioning, national democracy with a healthy economy was never achieved. Instead the country has been wracked by a repressive military dictatorship, intermittent warfare, serious economic problems and ethnic strife.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Refugee Stuff: Burmese names, Part three Introduction

“I was named after the sound of gunfire and I have no last name”
An Introduction to the Names and Naming Practices of Karen and Burmese people in the Capital District.

When Westerners interact with people from Burma (Myanmar), they encounter many differences. Some of these differences become problems, some become points of curiosity and some become items of interest in their own right. Names and naming practices of people from Burma can easily be all three.

For instance while Western names tend to follow a basic standard pattern of given (or first) name followed by a surname (or last name), names of people from Burma traditionally do not follow this pattern but instead follow patterns of their own.

As the number of refugees arriving in Western nations from Burma increases, the number of Westerners who have contact with these names will increase. It will become increasingly important for Westerners to be familiar with the naming practices of the people who come here from this troubled nation. Prior to 2006, the United States had tight restrictions on admitting Burmese refugees. (Gashler, Anonymous 2006) As of 2007, the United States resettled nearly 5,000 refugees from Burma of whom 3,500 were Karen, more than 1,000 were Burmans and more than 400 were Chin. (Barron, et al) Although these figures are dated and the number that have arrived today much greater, it is my belief that these figures give a rough idea of the proportional ethnic make up of refugees who arrive from Burma, although it does need to be said that an increasing minority are Karenni, a group that is sometimes classified as Karen and sometimes classified as a separate ethnic group. Today refugees from Burma arrive in the United States for resettlement at a rate of approximately 1,200 per month. (U.S. Department of State, Arrivals sorted by month) The number arriving in the Capital District, particularly Albany and the city of Rensselaer, has increased as well. Due in large part to the actions of two non-governmental agencies that have contracts with the state department to resettle refugees, Albany and its environs have become the new home for newly arrived refugees in large numbers.

In addition there are people from Burma who have resettled here who are not classified as refugees. Such people have been admitted to the USA under various categories. These include “asylum” status, getting a green card through the U.S. open lottery system, and family unification. Although people from Burma have lived in the Capital District for some time, their numbers have greatly accelerated since the admission of Burmese refugees started in 2006. I know of no people from Burma who are here illegally and expect that due to geography and travel difficulties, if such do exist their number is very small.

Although refugees do not get to choose where they will be initially settled within the U.S., or for that matter even if they will come to the USA or some other refugee destinatation country (i.e. Norway or Australia, among many others.) after arrival refugees are free to come and go as they please and many do move to live elsewhere on their own initiative, a phenomenon known as “secondary migration.” They usually seek out locations where they have friends and family and believe jobs are available. The Capital District, and the city of Rensselaer, is often such a place.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Refugee Stuff: Burmese names, Part Two -- Reference List

Here is the reference list used to write the paper.

Anonymous. Burmese Astrology. Downloaded from on April 26, 2010.
Anonymous. (2006, August 29) Burmese refugees on way to the U.S. BBC News, downloaded from pacific/529501... on April 26, 2010.
Anonymous. Meanings of Burmese names. taken from on 3/18/2010.
Barron, S, Okell, J., Saw Myat Yin, VanBik, K, Swain, A., Larkin, E., Allot, A.J., & Ewers, K. (2007) Refugees from Burma, Their Backgrounds and Refugee Experiences, Center for Applied Lingusitics, Washington D.C.
Blanco, V. & Feberwee, E. (2009) In China, My name is . . . New York City: Mark Batty Publisher.
Boucaud, A & Boucaud, L. (1988) Burma's Golden Triangle -On the Trail of the Opium Warlords. Hong Kong: Asia 2000.
Bowman, V. (2008) Burmese, Lonely Planet Phrasebooks. Victoria, Australia: Lonely Planet Publishing.
Carnegie, D. (1937) How to Win Friends and Influence People, New York: Simon & Schuster.
Collier, G.A. & Bricker, V.R. (1970) Nicknames and Social Structure in Zinacantan. American Anthropologist, New Series, 72, 289-302.
Emeneau, M.B. (1978) Towards an Onomastics of South Asia. Journal of the American Oriental Society, 98, 113-130.
Gashler, K. (2010, April 22) Burmese Immigrants share tales of horror. Ithaca Journal, downloaded from on April 26, 2010/.
Ghoshi, P. (2000) Brave Men of the Hills, Resistance and Rebellion in Burma, 1825-1932. Calcutta: Manohar Publishers & Distributors.
Lehman, F.K. (1963) The Structure of Chin Society, A Tribal People of Burma Adapted to a non- Western Civilization. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press.
Lip, E. (1988) Choosing Auspicious Chinese Names. Singapore: Times Books International.
Minority Rights Group International, World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples – Myanmar/ Burma: Karen, 2008, available at accessed on April 28, 2010.
Moore, E. (2007) Astrology in Burmese Buddhist culture, Decoding an illustrated manuscript from the SOAS archive. Orientations, 38, 79-85.
Moore, J.H. (1984) Cheyenne Names and Cosmology. American Ethnologist, 11, 291-312.
Nwe, T.T. (2006) The Kachins of Northeastern Myanmar: Culture and Environment. Paper presented at SEAGA Conference on 28-30 November. Downloaded from %20Papers/day2_fullpaper/session13_thanthannwe.pdf on April 26, 2010.
Okell, J. (1994) Burmese (Myanmar) An Introduction to the Spoken Language, Book 1.
Dekalb, IL: Northern Illinois University.
Radnofsky, L. (2008, April 14) Burmese Rebel Leader shot Dead. The Guardian. from on April 30, 2010.
Rajah, A. (2002) A Nation of Intent in Burma: Karen Ethno-nationalism, Nationalism and Narrations of Nation. The Pacific Review, 15, 517-537.
Rossi, A.S. (1965) Naming Children in Middle-Class Families. American Sociological Review, 30, 499-513.
Sakhong, L.H. (2003) In Search of Chin Identity: A Study in Religion, Politics and Ethnic Identity in Burma. Copenhagen, Denmark: NIAS Press.
Steinberg, D. I. (2010) Burma/ Myanmar, what everyone needs to know, New York: Oxford University Press.
Swee-lin Price, F. (2007) Success with Asian Names, A Practical Guide to Everyday Usage. Crows Nest NSW Australia: Allen & Unwin.
Thawnghmung, A.M. (2008) The Karen Revolution in Burma: Diverse Voices, Uncertain Ends. Washington D.C.: East West Center in Washington.
Tong, L. & Wei, C.J. (2005) 500 Famous Chinese Names. Singapore: Times Editions.
U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, Office of Admissions – Refugee Processing Center. (2010) Summary of Refugee Admissions as of 31-March- 2010, retrieved from %3D&tabid=211&mid=630&language=en-US on April 26, 2010.
U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, Office of Admissions – Refugee Processing Center. (2010) FY 2010 Arrivals Sorted by Region by Month,
Summary of Refugee Admissions as of 31-March-2010, retrieved from %3D&tabid=211&mid=627&language=en-US on April 26, 2010.
Wikipedia. Karen People from downloaded on April 30, 2010.
Yang, B. (1987) Golden Triangle, Frontier and Wilderness. Hong Kong: Joint Publishing Company.

The names of all informants have been kept confidential. All interviews were conducted in English during April 2010 in Albany or Rensselaer.

1. 28 year old, female, urbanized Karen with some college education.
2. 21 year old male Karen refugee with much time among other cultures.
3. 34 year old male Burman Buddhist monk.

Refugee Stuff: Burmese names, Part One -Outline

A few years back, I found myself at the University of Albany working on a TESOL degree (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). As part of this, I took a communications class and was required to write a paper. No problem there as I actually like writing papers.

For my topic I chose to tackle the complex subject of Burmese names.

Over the next few weeks I plan to post this paper in its entirety.

ACOM 577

Professor B.J. Fehr

April 30, 2010

“I was named after the sound of gunfire and I have no last name”

Names of Karen and Burmese people in the Capital District.


Introduction: Burmese names.
Why they are confusing.
Why they are important. Refugee population
Naming practices in general:
terminology (onomastics, anthropynymy)
positive names
theophoric or religious names
An introduction to the nation of Burma
Burma does not have a single ethnic group but is instead a multi-ethnic state
Introduce ethnic groups:
Pa O
Chinese and Indians

Note that for many of these groups diversity is the norm
Sense of intra-ethnic identity or nationalism came relatively late
For many literacy is a late 19th Century introduction
Colonial experience did not create a functional state with a pan-ethnic sense of Burmese nationalism. Although the national government does strive for this goal, they have neither a realistic plan nor strong support to achieve this goal.
Therefore Burma does not have a single naming system but instead has several naming systems.

The Burmese refugee community of the Capital District includes primarily Burmans, Karen, Chin and Karenni . Although other groups may be discussed in passing, these are the groups that this paper will focus on.

The names of Burmese of Chinese or South Asian descent will not be discussed in this paper. This is not a political statement. However, the naming practices of these ethnic groups are both complex and well documented elsewhere.

The Burmese language and Burman people. A good place to start.

The Burmese language.
Burmese phonology.
Tone system.
Tends to sound monosyllabic to the Western ear.
Burmese script.
Transliterating the script with Roman letters. No fixed system exists. \
Legacy of colonialism and the ruling juntas campaign for “correcting names.”
Burman names
Differences from Western practice.
No family name.
Usually no reference to family in name at all.
Although sometimes this does happen. (i.e. Aung San Su Kyi)
Wife does not change her name upon marriage.
Sometimes this does happen in the west.
Burmese names are often tied in with Burmese astrological practices. This is not unique to Burmans. There are traces of the practice in South Asian and Chinese culture too.
Burmese astrology is heavily centered around an 8 day week (Wednesday is divided into an early and late half.)
Burmans remember this day of the week and consider it important.
Burmans often use titles. There are many of these.
Burmans sometimes change their name on special occasions.
Burmese names are usually 2 syllables, sometimes 3, yet the can have one or four syllables.
The syllables of Burmese names usually pleasant meaning.
Occasionally Burmese use Western names. These are generally nicknames or school names.
Monks have special names that come from the Pali language.
Karen Names and Naming Practices
Different titles
Pwo Karen naming practices
Choice of name
Karenni Names
Chin names
Kachin names
Conclusions and Implications for further research