Leprosy in China

Leprosy in China: A History

Angela Ki Che Leung
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/leun12300
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Leprosy in China
    Book Description:

    Angela Ki Che Leung's meticulous study begins with the classical annals of the imperial era, which contain the first descriptions of a feared and stigmatized disorder modern researchers now identify as leprosy. She then tracks the relationship between the disease and China's social and political spheres (theories of contagion prompted community and statewide efforts at segregation); religious traditions (Buddhism and Daoism ascribed redemptive meaning to those suffering from the disease), and evolving medical discourse (Chinese doctors have contested the disease's etiology for centuries). Leprosy even pops up in Chinese folklore, attributing the spread of the contagion to contact with immoral women.

    Leung next places the history of leprosy into a global context of colonialism, racial politics, and "imperial danger." A perceived global pandemic in the late nineteenth century seemed to confirm Westerners' fears that Chinese immigration threatened public health. Therefore battling to contain, if not eliminate, the disease became a central mission of the modernizing, state-building projects of the late Qing empire, the nationalist government of the first half of the twentieth century, and the People's Republic of China.

    Stamping out the curse of leprosy was the first step toward achieving "hygienic modernity" and erasing the cultural and economic backwardness associated with the disease. Leung's final move connects China's experience with leprosy to a larger history of public health and biomedical regimes of power, exploring the cultural and political implications of China's Sino-Western approach to the disease.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51779-9
    Subjects: History, Sociology, Health Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    This book offers a story of leprosy over many centuries of Chinese history—one that forms a parallel narrative to the better-known history of the disease in the Mediterranean and European worlds. As in the West, there is evidence for an ancient, feared, and stigmatized disorder that modern researchers identify with leprosy. Literate medicine has left traces of disputes and confusions over its nosology and etiology; the history of Buddhism and Daoism shows how religion played a role in ascribing redemptive meaning and offering solace; the mystery of its mode of transmission provoked popular explanations of contagion and stimulated state...

  5. ONE Li/Lai/Dafeng/Mafeng: History of the Conceptualization of a Disease/Category
    (pp. 17-59)

    In the early twentieth century, when China was obsessed by its leprosy problem, medical doctors and historians alike looked back in history in order to identify evidence of true leprosy in ancient classics and medical texts.¹ The mentions of dafeng / lifeng (big Wind, Wind of li) in the Huangdi neijing (The Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon), the most important medical classic in China,² and the famous episode in the Lunyu (Analects) on Confucius lamenting the “malignant ailment” (eji) of his disciple Ran Boniu were probably the most quoted examples in modern articles written on the Chinese history of leprosy to illustrate...

  6. TWO A Cursed but Redeemable Body
    (pp. 60-83)

    While the history of social rejection of lepers in Christian Europe is a well-known story,¹ and the relative tolerance of lepers in Islamic society has also been described,² we still do not have a general picture of how Chinese society regarded mafeng/lai patients. In fact, in both the medical and religious traditions in China, there were two contradictory but coexisting views of li/lai. It was at the same time incurable and redeemable. While descriptions in most mainstream medical texts were more categorical, religious or social attitudes toward the ailment were confused, ambiguous, and mixed. Religious and social perceptions of the...

  7. THREE The Dangerously Contagious Body: Segregation in Late Imperial China
    (pp. 84-131)

    The problem of li/lai in China was perceived very differently in the late imperial period, especially from the sixteenth century onward. Even though the question of the contagiousness of the ailment had already been mentioned in medical and Daoist texts in the thirteenth century, and contemporary local customs in the Fujian region reflected the popular belief that the ailment could be transmitted by sex, it was only after the sixteenth century that the fear of the contagiousness of li/lai became a widespread social phenomenon. The fear was, moreover, associated with several new developments in the conceptualization of li/lai, introduced in...

  8. FOUR The Chinese Leper and the Modern World
    (pp. 132-176)

    Even though China was not exactly a colony in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the sense of political and cultural crisis was growing rapidly among the elite from the late nineteenth century onward. Modernization was the major task that the Qing government strived to achieve, a task continued to be pursued by the Republican government from 1911 onward. In the midst of such nationalistic endeavors, the Chinese leper came to symbolize what was deplorable in China’s past and the obstacle to modernization: physical and moral weakness expressed in repulsive sores and a crippled, incurable body. Even worse, this sick body...

  9. FIVE Leprosy in the PRC
    (pp. 177-213)

    The epidemiological story of leprosy entered a different stage from the second half of the twentieth century onward. With the growing use of sulfonamides, the disease came under much better control, and the reduced human migrations since the Cold War seem to have calmed the popular fear of global contamination. China could have pursued a significantly different policy on leprosy control from segregation, the favorite option of the Nationalist elites. Nonetheless, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) chose to double the efforts to segregate patients in asylums and villages on a national scale, and did so with much greater success...

  10. Epilogue: Leprosy, China, and the World
    (pp. 214-222)

    Much of this volume has traced the long history of leprosy as it evolved inside China over many centuries. As in the medieval history of leprosy in Christian Europe, early Chinese understandings of the disease were mediated by religion, allowing sufferers the possibility of redemption through Buddhist or Daoist salvation or Confucian good works. When, after the twelfth century, elite Chinese doctors stopped talking about li/lai as an environmental, Wind pathogen, popular healers, identified with “external medicine,” gradually filled the vacuum with an account of mafeng as a contagious disorder manifested in skin symptoms. In their accounts of mafeng, an...

  11. Appendix 1: List of Leprosaria and Clinics in China
    (pp. 223-230)
  12. Appendix 2: Indigenous Leper Asylums in Late Imperial China
    (pp. 231-234)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 235-310)
  14. Glossary
    (pp. 311-328)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 329-354)
  16. Index
    (pp. 355-374)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 375-376)