This article examines American perceptions of Chinese herbalism as natural medicine in the Progressive Era. In doing so, it uses the lens of environmental history to consider three meanings of nature for Chinese medicine in the United States: First, as a material, trans-Pacific environment where medicinal ingredients were procured, distributed, and consumed; second, as part of the evolving distinction between modern, scientific “regular” medicine and anti-modern, unscientific “irregular” medicine that reached a moment of crisis at the turn of the twentieth century; and third, as a reflection of the racialization of Chinese health practices co-created by Asian practitioners and their American patients, who were conditioned by Orientalist stereotypes to perceive Chinese culture as close to a pastoral or primitive nature. The close association between herbs and nature enabled Chinese doctors to thrive as “irregular” or “alternative” practitioners in the American medical marketplace. While American patients may have perceived Chinese medicine as closer to nature, the many meanings of nature reveal the extent to which the association was a deliberate strategy for survival and success adopted by Chinese doctors in the United States.

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