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This paper examines the gender and body politics of the social encounter between Chinese women and Western medicine from the 1870s to the 1920s. Basing my analysis on the reports of American medical missionary men and women who practiced medicine in China, I focus on the ways in which Western medical missionary practice was shaped by the gender of the participants on both sides of the encounter, together with the nature of the patients’ illnesses. According to the American mission literature, particularly the kind that aimed at promoting medical missionary women, Chinese women were often victims of heathen social customs. One of the most commonly proffered examples was Chinese women’s concerns over modesty, which kept them from seeing male physicians even if the illness was life-threatening. However, while this was more or less true for women of the higher classes, not all Chinese women observed such a strict rule of propriety, as evidenced by the numerous medical missionary men’s reports about the considerable number of women patients (usually poor) whom they treated. Moreover, Chinese men patients in general did not necessarily prefer male doctors or attempt to avoid Western medical missionary women, who could in this period see both men and women patients. Since the gender of medical missionary men (and Chinese medical men) posed problems for respectable Chinese women patients, mission leaders thought Western medicine could reach these bodies more effectively through medical missionary women. However, Chinese women as patients were not the only group whose propriety had to be maintained, Chinese women as physicians were also subject to such regulations; more often than not, they avoided seeing men patients. Other factors such as the patient’s marital status, age, and the nature of her illness also contributed to the ways in which she sought medical attention.
Nationality, gender, social status, and level of desperation (or a fundamental need for medical help) were all factors that shaped missionary medical practice. The relationship between the gendered body, class, Western incursion, medical need, and missionizing becomes clearer when we examine so-called “heathen social customs” such as Chinese women’s concerns of modesty, a particularly polyvalent site of social politics and meanings. As Western medicine established its status in China at the advent of China’s colonial modernity in the twentieth century, a fundamental change in matters regarding gender and body politics took place. Respectable women patients now, without worrying about losing status, sought medical men’s services for general illnesses, and Chinese women physicians could also receive men patients.
This study explores how the emergence of the concept of public health in twentieth-century China shaped municipal government policies toward public toilets and the disposal of human waste in Republican Guangzhou, and its subsequent impact on three different aspects of urban life, namely material culture, urban administration, and urban identity. At the level of material culture, the municipal government’s construction of water closets and public toilets specifically for women brought about tangible changes in the urban landscape and the material life of the people of Guangzhou. At the level of urban administration, the night-soil trade associations, which had been in charge of the management of human waste of the city before the formation of the Guangzhou municipal government, disappeared in the face of the creation of a government-led public health system. At the level of urban identity, the government regulation against urinating in public places gave a new dimension to urban cultural norms and strengthened the boundary between the urban and the rural. Those who violated the regulation were now considered “country bumpkins” who were uncivilized and uninformed of modern urban behavioral standards. Though the government fell short of most of its targets, top-down public health projects gave rise to a set of new norms regarding public toilets and toilet culture, which in turn reshaped urban dwellers’ perception of the essence of modern urban life, their view of the government’s obligation to provide clean toilets, and their concerns about privacy.
To better understand the transformation from Chinese medicines to Western medicines used in health care in modern China, as well as the globalization of the drug industry in the past century and a half, this article examines “Aspirin,” the most important and widely-used pain-reliever in the twentieth century, as a case study. Focusing on its introduction to China and ensuing trade mark disputes, this article shows that by the 1930s the Chinese had already built up their own pharmaceutical industry and formed a nationwide trade association. Furthermore, the association used the name “new medicine” rather than “Western medicine” so as to distinguish their products from the foreign, imported drugs. Chinese pharmaceutical companies started their industry by copying foreign formulas including Aspirin, which led to lengthy litigation with I.G. Farben. Intriguingly, the Chinese eventually won their case by persuading the Chinese government that aspirin had become a commonly-used name for pain relievers and thus lost the essential distinction of a trade mark. Though this seems to be a typical case of Chinese indigenous enterprises versus a multinational corporation, this paper argues that these events reveal the astonishing degree to which pharmaceutical companies, whether indigenous or multinational, rely on the power of the state to protect their products.
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