- To Set a Gross Distortion Straight: A Reply to Reidar Lie’s Book Review of Jing-Bao Nie’s Medical Ethics in China: A Transcultural Interpretation (Routledge 2011)
I am grateful to the editor and the editorial office of the Asian Bioethics Review for having published two reviews of, respectively, a volume I co-edited on Japan’s wartime medical atrocities and the most recent book of mine on medical ethics in China, in a single year.1 I have a personal policy of not formally responding to reviews of my books unless absolutely necessary, being aware of dozens of reviews written by scholars from various countries, including China, which since 2006 have appeared in a range of international journals in bioethics, medicine, the history of medicine, medical law, China studies, Asian studies, population studies, anthropology and sociology. I have nevertheless accepted the invitation from ABR to write a reply to Professor Reidar Lie’s review,2 because it has falsely attributed to me opinions that I can only describe as ridiculous. His review is long, nearly 3,000 words. To defend myself against his many misrepresentations, my reply cannot be short; but it will fall within the same word limit (excluding the references).
Lie begins his review with the foreword by Professor Robert Veatch. I agree with Lie that my work does not deserve Veatch’s generous endorsement. Yet, Lie has seriously misread Veatch on Professor Qiu Ren-Zong and appears to be unaware of Veatch’s long interest in bioethics in China and Asia. Although I cannot speak for Veatch, I am certain that he would never “minimise” (as Lie alleges) the significant contribution that Qiu has made not only to bioethics in China but also to international bioethics. Among his many pioneering [End Page 399] books in bioethics, Veatch has edited an important and influential anthology of cross-cultural bioethics, Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Medical Ethics (1st ed. 1989, 2nd ed. 2000). I do not have the first edition at hand. However, in the second edition, Veatch has drawn attention to medical ethics in China as well as Qiu’s important work by including his two English-language publications. In the editor’s introduction to reading, Veatch has clearly stated that Qiu is “China’s best known and most distinguished bioethicist”. “In addition to being an authority on traditional Chinese medical ethics, Ren-Zong Qiu is also a leading figure in modern medical ethics in China” (pp. 292, 318).3 Apparently, in his foreword to my book, he has regarded this endorsement as too obvious to mention. Although my book is not a systematic survey of Chinese bioethics, Qiu is nonetheless noted as a “leading bioethicist and philosopher of science in contemporary China” (p. 29) and as the founder of Chinese feminist bioethics (p. 173).4
Early in his review, Lie states that the myth of the individualistic West versus communitarian China that I have attempted to refute in my book “has been perpetuated partly based on the early scandalously superficial analyses by scholars such as Tristram Engelhardt and Renee Fox” (p. 241). Although I have criticised these scholars’ characterisation of medical ethics in China and its cultural features, I would not have concluded that their analyses were “scandalously superficial”. These early studies deserve to be taken seriously because similar views are still in circulation today. The question for me is: Why have so many otherwise reliable scholars subscribed to and promoted these highly problematic stereotypes? The answer, as presented in my book, Chapters 1 and 2 in particular, lies in the deeply rooted “East is East and West is West” mentality and the persistent habit of thought associated with it — of dichotomizing cultural differences — habits which are still popular in the West as well as China.
My book contains two chapters — Chapters 6 and 7 — on medical truth-telling about terminal illness, because this topic presents a fascinating case study of the complexity of cultural differences and the misconceptions inherent in the “cultural differences argument”. A large part of Lie’s review is critical of my views on this subject, alleging that I have oversimplified the historical and sociological realities of China as...