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Barefoot Doctors and Western Medicine in China

Barefoot Doctors and Western Medicine in China

Xiaoping Fang
Volume: 23
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 312
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  • Book Info
    Barefoot Doctors and Western Medicine in China
    Book Description:

    In 1968, at the height of the Cultural Revolution, the Chinese Communist Party endorsed a radical new system of health-care delivery for the rural masses. Soon every village had at least one barefoot doctor to provide basic medical care, creating a national network of health-care services for the very first time. The barefoot doctors were portrayed nationally and internationally as revolutionary heroes, wading undaunted through rice paddies to bring effective, low-cost care to poor peasants. This book is the first comprehensive study to look beyond the nostalgia dominating present scholarship on public health in China and offer a powerful and carefully contextualized critique of the prevailing views on the role of barefoot doctors, their legacy, and their impact. Drawing on primary documents from the Cultural Revolution and personal interviews with patients and doctors, Xiaoping Fang examines the evidence within the broader history of medicine in revolutionary and postreform China. He finds that rather than consolidating traditional Chinese medicine, as purported by government propaganda, the barefoot doctor program introduced modern Western medicine to rural China, effectively modernizing established methods and forms of care. As a result, this volume retrieves from potential oblivion a critical part of the history of Western medicine in China. Xiaoping Fang is research fellow at the China Research Centre of the University of Technology, Sydney, Australia.

    eISBN: 978-1-58046-788-9
    Subjects: Health Sciences

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. Maps
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-19)

    The year 1968 saw the publication of Ralph Croizier’s Traditional Medicine in Modern China: Science, Nationalism, and the Tensions of Cultural Change, which would become one of the most cited books on twentieth-century Chinese medical history. It focused on one “central paradox and main theme”: why twentieth-century intellectuals, committed in so many ways to science and modernity, insisted on upholding China’s ancient “prescientific” medical tradition.¹ From the perspective of cultural nationalism, Croizier argued that these intellectuals were influenced by “the interaction of two of the dominant themes in modern Chinese thinking—the drive for national strength through modern science, and...

  7. Chapter One Village Healers, Medical Pluralism, and State Medicine
    (pp. 20-41)

    One chilly morning in the early spring of 1952, former Nationalist Party member Chen Hongting and his father Chen Changfu got up early and began their day as usual. The Chen family lived in Jiang Village, Hang County, in the eastern Chinese province of Zhejiang, in a house dating back to the Tongzhi reign of the Qing dynasty. There they carried on the sixty-year-old medical practice started by Hongting’s grandfather. Yet, on that day in 1952, this tradition was about to be transformed. For the past two years, new songs had echoed through the village:

    The sky of the liberation...

  8. Chapter Two Revolutionizing Knowledge Transmission Structures
    (pp. 42-66)

    The healers who made up the plural Chinese medical world prior to 1949 followed long-standing traditions of knowledge transmission. These traditions were mainly either family based (parent-to-child transmission) or apprenticeship based (master-to-disciple transmission), and in both cases were confined to the local community. The personal nature of these transmission methods limited both the breadth of the dissemination of medical knowledge and the number of recipients of that knowledge. The People’s Republic of China’s newly established state medical system constantly reorganized existing plural medical systems, and the state sought to replace these traditional ways of acquiring medical knowledge to meet the...

  9. Chapter Three Pharmaceuticals Reach the Villages
    (pp. 67-93)

    Infectious diseases dominated the disease model of China’s villages, just as they did in many other societies prior to the advent of modern medicine. The main pharmaceuticals consumed in rural China were herbal medicines that were mainly gathered from the fields, although traditional nonherbal pharmaceuticals were also used. Together, they comprised two of the basic features of the plural medical systems of traditional village life. However, beginning in the early 1950s, modern Western medicines, vaccines, and medical instruments were introduced into the villages as the newly formed state pharmaceutical sales network extended its national reach. This chapter shows that, contrary...

  10. Chapter Four Healing Styles and Medical Beliefs: The Consumption of Chinese and Western Medicines
    (pp. 94-124)

    Together with medical knowledge and pharmaceuticals, the healing techniques of Western medicine gradually entered the village medical domain from early the 1950s onward.¹ These new healing methods emerged gradually among village healers, particularly among the union clinic doctors. In Jiang Village, Chen Hongting, who had practiced as a Chinese medicine doctor in his father’s footsteps, was already prescribing a few tablets of aspirin before liberation.² After 1949, he learned to administer injections, to obtain a blood sample, and to hatch schistosomes from human feces in order to diagnose schistosomiasis. After 1958, Chen Zhicheng recalled, “We carried medical kits during prevention...

  11. Chapter Five Relocating Illness: The Shift from Home Bedside to Hospital Ward
    (pp. 125-150)

    For ordinary Chinese villagers, seeking treatment in a hospital was completely unheard of until the middle of the twentieth century. Until about the mid-1960s, most medical encounters between doctors and patients in the professional medical sector in Chinese villages had changed little since the times of those villagers’ distant ancestors. Hospitalization, wards, referrals, and medical consultations were all still remote and strange ideas to the majority of villagers. This pattern would change in the early 1980s. As the odors of decocted medicinal herbs gradually ceased to fill the village skies, medical encounters were no longer confined to villagers’ homes. Instead,...

  12. Chapter Six Group Identity, Power Relationships, and Medical Legitimacy
    (pp. 151-176)

    In his Profession of Medicine, Eliot Freidson showed that in all societies people diagnose sickness and devise methods for its management. Some individuals are thought to be especially knowledgeable about sickness and are regularly sought out by patients or their families. In many cases, these individuals have other trades or professions and simply perform healing tasks on the side to supplement their income, while others develop a sufficient practice to make a living solely from healing and so develop a specialist vocation. He notes that not all healers are called doctors or physicians, nor are they necessarily considered professionals.¹ Freidson’s...

  13. Chapter Seven Conclusion
    (pp. 177-186)

    In 1952, when Chen Hongting and his father welcomed the doctors from neighboring villages to their family clinic in order to establish the Jiang Village Union Clinic, they could never have imagined the radical changes that would take place in the following decades. Chen Hongting could not have foreseen the dramatic ups and downs he would experience in both his life and career—from being a founding director of the clinic to being demoted, criticized, and even forcibly paraded through the street wearing a dunce cap, until finally retiring as an ordinary staff member. Nor could he have anticipated that...

  14. Appendix One The Organization of the Three-Tiered Medical System in Rural China, 1968–83
    (pp. 187-187)
  15. Appendix Two Common Medicines in Chinese Villages during the 1960s–70s
    (pp. 188-198)
  16. Abbreviations
    (pp. 199-199)
  17. Glossary
    (pp. 200-203)
  18. Notes
    (pp. 204-251)
  19. Bibliography
    (pp. 252-278)
  20. Index
    (pp. 279-294)
  21. Back Matter
    (pp. 295-295)