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date: 07 October 2022

Health and Medicine in Modern Chinalocked

Health and Medicine in Modern Chinalocked

  • Jia-Chen FuJia-Chen FuEmory University, Department of Russian and East Asian Languages and Cultures


Throughout much of the modern period (late imperial through the 20th century), healing activities have been pluralistic and diverse in nature. There were fluid boundaries between curative and health-promoting activities, and those providing health services came from a variety of backgrounds and trades. The Qing state (1644–1912) adopted a paternalistic though largely hands-off approach to matters of health and medicine until social and political crises of the late 19th century. With the arrival of Protestant medical missionaries and the increasingly strong conflation of Western medicine with modernization, health and medicine in modern China became inextricably tied to the question, “what purpose should health serve?” Chinese medicine too found itself swept up in these currents of defining modernity and modernization. Health and sovereignty in modern China were intertwined in such a fashion that equated a strong, autonomous nation with healthy, disciplined bodies. Individual health behaviors were linked to the status of the nation. Within this formulation, health, especially in the form of public health and modernized medicine, was both predicated on a powerful, centralized state and served as a means for state-building. State responsibility thus included preventing disease as well as minimizing ill health. To achieve these aims, the state needed tools and mechanisms to keep track of its citizens and how they acted. It needed to build a health infrastructure that could manage the health of public spaces and citizens’ bodies. And it needed to do so in ways that were meaningfully resonant to outside observers. These goals served as a kind of through line for much of the 20th century, even as it accommodated different interpretations and degrees of success by the subsequent political regimes, the Republican government (1912–1949), and the People’s Republic of China (1949 to present).


  • China

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