AbstractsGeography &GIS

The Social (Un)Sustainability of Bear Bile : A Case Study of Traditional Chinese Medical Practice in Southeast Asia

by Oake E. Meise-Munns

Institution: Central Connecticut State University
Department: Department of Geography
Year: 2015
Keywords: Medicine, Chinese.; Sustainability.
Record ID: 2061546
Full text PDF: http://content.library.ccsu.edu/u?/ccsutheses,2061


The use of bear bile in Traditional Chinese Medicine to treat various ailments including stomach issues has a long history. It is used and produced in Southeast Asia but it did not originate there. Thus, it is not a given that it is sustainable, or long lasting and will continue into the future, within the region. In this thesis, I use a critical geographic lens to analyze the use of bear bile in Traditional Chinese Medicine in Southeast Asia, and work to examine how environmentally and culturally sustainable the use is. This has rarely been studied before, since most geographers do not focus on the use of bear bile within Southeast Asia, let alone on the sustainability of the practice. The first few questions I answered were if the use of bear bile was culturally sustainable within the region given usage patterns and cultural attitudes towards its use. The other question was whether bear bile was significant within Southeast Asia or Traditional Chinese Medicine in general. I measured significance by seeing how many local people used it when seeking out traditional treatments and by seeing how important it was to doctors that people use it. If many people were strongly attached to it, bear bile would have proven significant – or a practice that people wished to continue and perpetuate. In order to answer these questions, I reviewed literature on bear bile use, bear population sizes, and other forms of traditional medicine. The literature review covered the last 30 years and helped me establish a pattern for traditional medicine usage while seeing the whys and hows of how bear bile is collected. It also showed me how it affected local bear populations. I also conducted interviews with Singaporean residents and doctors along with American practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine and geographers who specialized in traditional medicine from around the world and in animals. These interviews, which were conducted in the summer of 2013, not only gave me a local perspective on how important bear bile was but they also taught me how the medical world and the academic world view the practice. As a result of this research I found that, while bear bile can be, and is harvested, it is not environmentally sustainable due to the number of bears killed and farmed. Compounding this was how much their population and territory had been degraded. Socially, there is not a strong tradition within Southeast Asia of the use of bile. Instead, it is mainly focused within the Chinese immigrant community and the tourists who travel to Southeast Asia to obtain the bile. I also found that bear bile was not significant in Southeast Asia or in Traditional Chinese Medicine more generally, due, in part, to growing sentiment against it. People of Southeast Asian descent do not use the bile and even those of Chinese descent who reside permanently within Southeast Asia do not use it with significant numbers. In conclusion, the bear bile industry is only sustainable in Southeast Asia as long as it continues to bring in money for those who smuggle or…