Leprosy Doctors in China’s Post-Imperial Experimentation: Metaphors of a Disease and Its Control

Volume 14, Issue 2

Social researchers studying diseases frequently have to answer the question: How is this relevant to other people? "Other people," of course, refers to those members of society who do not suffer from the disease being studied. For those who study diseases in non-Western contexts, "other people" may also include people in the West. To address the question, some researchers argue that medical knowledge reflects and reproduces power relations in society. Others examine the causes of disease and reveal that social factors shape health conditions in profound ways. Then there is Shao-Hua Liu, a medical anthropologist who tackles the expansion of leprosy prevention in socialist China. Liu spent more than ten years researching this public health movement, which was seldom discussed publicly before the 1980s and yet is unusual in its scale and influence. While there is a substantial amount of literature on the link between public health and race, the relationship between public health and state building still requires discussion. Liu's work significantly advances our understanding of this important topic. She not only shows how medical workers took part in China's state-building project but also illustrates how a state eager to establish and transform itself into a modern one was able to formulate disease-prevention policies that used disease stigma as a mode of mobilization.

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