Bodies and Their Care in 20th century China: Making History from the Margins
For the majority of its long history, well into the twentieth century, China was an agricultural society with a mostly illiterate and semi-literate population. Yet the bulk of historical scholarship on China is based on written texts authored by literate elites. Positing that we cannot understand the lives of most Chinese through such analysis, this talk seeks alternate routes in medical history. I argue that analysis of bodies and their care is one means of escaping the confines of the written word. Moving to the body allows us to explore the physical and emotional experience of being human in twentieth-century China. I will draw concrete examples from my first book, Intimate Communities: Wartime Healthcare and the Birth of Modern China, 1937-1945 (Oakland: University of California Press, 2018; winner of the 2020 Joan Kelly Memorial Prize from the American Historical Association), a gendered history of military and civilian healthcare in China during the period of World War II.