Disease in the Capital: Nationalist Health Services and the ‘Sick [Wo]man of East Asia’ in Wartime Chongqing

In: European Journal of East Asian Studies
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  • 1 Boston College

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The Chongqing Bureau of Public Health, established shortly after the Nationalists relocated to the wartime capital, faced frequent air raids, rampant inflation, and acute personnel shortages. Still it accomplished an astonishing amount of work, demonstrating its commitment to public health as a barometer of modernity, national stability, and political fitness. The Bureau also treated male and female bodies differently, institutionalizing gender roles through its public health administration. This paper illustrates differences between medical care for men and women, arguing that Chongqing health officials’ myopic focus on maternal issues when discussing women’s healthcare, their failure to address highly skewed gender ratios in the patient reports and vaccination statistics that their office received on a monthly basis, and the relatively late opening of the city’s most substantial maternal health facilities, all point to male-centric priorities within the administration. Military health took priority not only because of the war, but because soldiers’ health conditions and facilities were so appallingly dismal. Thus, wartime health conditions reveal the continued haunting of modern China’s great specter, the “Sick Man of East Asia,” and two types of disease in the wartime capital: the Nationalist state, politically diseased, failed to protect its civilians and soldiers from common diseases.

  • 8

    James L. Hevia, English Lessons: The Pedagogy of Imperialism in Nineteenth-Century China (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003).

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    Andrew D. Morris, Marrow of the Nation: A History of Sport and Physical Culture in China (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004), pp. 7–8.

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  • 14

    C.C. Chen, Medicine in Rural China: A Personal Account (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989), p. 25.

  • 18

    Joan Judge, The Precious Raft of History: The Past, the West, and the Woman Question in China (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2008), p. 108.

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  • 20

    Helen Schneider, Keeping the Nation’s House: Domestic Management and the Making of Modern China (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2011); Chien-ming Yu, ‘The structure of modern home economics in the Women’s Journal (1915–1931): a case study of food, clothing, and housing’ [Funü Zazhi (1915–1931) dui jindai jiazheng zhishi de jiangou: yi shi yi zhu wei li 《婦女雜誌》(1915–1931)對近代家政知識建構:以食衣住為例], in ‘Toward Modernity’ editorial group (ed.) Toward Modernity: The Development of National History and Regional Trends [Zouxiang jindai: Guoshi fazhan yu quyu dongxiang 走向近代:國史發展與區域動向] (Taipei: Donghua shuju, 2004), pp. 233–251.

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  • 21

    Ka-che Yip, Health and National Reconstruction in Nationalist China: The Development of Modern Health Services, 1928–1937 (Ann Arbor, Michigan: Association for Asian Studies, Inc., 1995), pp. 177–178.

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  • 25

    CBPH Work Report, CMA, Chongqing (1938), 66-1-2, 181.

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    Danke Li, Echoes of Chongqing: Women in Wartime China (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2010), pp. 89, 105; CBPH Work Report (1938), 188. Some pipes had been laid in the mid-1930s, but they never covered the whole city and soon after the air raids began many of these pipes were destroyed; see Lee McIsaac, ‘The limits of Chinese nationalism: workers in wartime Chongqing, 1937–1945’ (PhD dissertation, Yale University, 1994), p. 44.

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  • 31

    CBPH Work Report, CMA, Chongqing (1938), 66-1-2, 189.

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    In 1940, the clinics and mobile medic teams combined provided 15,275 smallpox inoculations and 19,149 preventive vaccinations. See CBPH Work Report, CMA, Chongqing (September 1940–February 1941), 66-1-3, 200.

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    CBPH Work Report, CMA, Chongqing (1943), 66-1-2, 206–207. The Bureau had originally budgeted 505,640 yuan for the hospital equipment and construction, but spent only 266,860 and began the 1944 fiscal year with 238,600 yuan left over in this line of the budget.

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    CBPH Work Report, 1940, 197; CBPH Work Report, CMA, Chongqing (1944), 66-1-2, 34, 48; Chongqing Municipal Hospital Patient Statistics and Work Report, CMA, Chongqing (January 1944–June 1945), 165-2-5.

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    CBPH Work Report, 1940, 197; CBPH Work Report, CMA, Chongqing (1944), 66-1-2, 34, 48; Chongqing Municipal Hospital Patient Statistics and Work Report, CMA, Chongqing (January 1944–June 1945), 165-2-5.

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    Olga Lang, Chinese Family and Society (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1946), p. 201. Unfortunately this was not new in the 1930s; during earlier twentieth-century wars and battles between warlords, young Chinese women who appeared in public risked attack by soldiers on either side of the conflict. See Kristin Stapleton, ‘Warfare and modern urban administration in Chinese cities’, in Sherman Cochran et al. (eds) Cities in Motion: Interior, Coast, and Diaspora in Transnational China (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007), p. 70. For oral histories of women who reported living through these dangers during the war years, see Gail Hershatter, The Gender of Memory: Rural Women and China’s Collective Past (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011).

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  • 57

    Lloyd Eastman, Seeds of Destruction: Nationalist China in War and Revolution, 1937–1949 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1984), p. 130; and Zhuanxu Luo (ed.) Grand Record of Chongqing’s War of Resistance [Chongqing Kangzhan dashiji 重庆抗战大事记] (Chongqing: Chongqing Publishing House, 1995), p. 3.

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