In 1968, at the height of the Cultural Revolution, the Chinese Communist Party endorsed a radical new system of health-care delivery for the rural masses. Soon every village had at least one barefoot doctor to provide basic medical care, creating a national network of health-care services for the very first time. The barefoot doctors were portrayed nationally and internationally as revolutionary heroes, wading undaunted through rice paddies to bring effective, low-cost care to poor peasants.
This book is the first comprehensive study to look beyond the nostalgia dominating present scholarship on public health in China and offer a powerful and carefully contextualized critique of the prevailing views on the role of barefoot doctors, their legacy, and their impact. Drawing on primary documents from the Cultural Revolution and personal interviews with patients and doctors, Xiaoping Fang examines the evidence within the broader history of medicine in revolutionary and postreform China. He finds that rather than consolidating traditional Chinese medicine, as purported by government propaganda, the barefoot doctor program introduced modern Western medicine to rural China, effectively modernizing established methods and forms of care. As a result, this volume retrieves from potential oblivion a critical part of the history of Western medicine in China.
Xiaoping Fang is assistant professor of Chinese history at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.
Xiaoping Fang gives the English-reading world a reliable account of the barefoot doctor movement and its tremendous importance in the creation of the Chinese health-care system. Contrary to received opinion, Fang shows how the movement prompted a decline in the popularity of traditional healing methods while promoting biomedicine in the countryside. This study greatly advances our understanding of the history of medicine in modern China. --Bridie Andrews, Associate Professor of History, Bentley University
The focus on one village in Hangzhou Prefecture gives the book a specificity and immediateness that bring history to life in sometimes dramatic ways....Recommended. CHOICE
Paints a richly textured picture of medicine in rural China....This relatively short book is a gem....An excellent book that deserves to be widely read. THE AMERICAN HISTORICAL REVIEW
This book will be of wide interest to anyone wishing to understand the state of health care in China today and the roots of its successes and dilemmas. PACIFIC AFFAIRS
Discussing the barefoot doctor program, processes of knowledge transmission, pharmaceutical prices and supply chains, medical consumption, group identity and professionalism, and institutional shifts, this book successfully advances our understanding of how the three-tier medical network was gradually set up in China's countryside. THE CHINA JOURNAL
This illuminating study corrects what we thought we knew about that evanescent character the Barefoot Doctor, invented in 1968, widely acclaimed inside and outside China, and officially discarded in 1985. Barefoot Doctors and Western Medicine in China
is based not only on research on the ground, but on a thorough study of the pertinent scholarly literature. THE CHINA REVIEW
Fang Xiaoping's richly documented study offers a challenging interpretation of the role of barefoot doctors, their legacy, and their impact on medical knowledge and practice, as well as on the changing health problems and expectations of rural patients. Highlighting how health workers grappled firsthand with the incompatibilities between state imperatives and the needs and expectations of local society, Fang's book is a valuable contribution not only to the history of medicine but to the history of governance in the People's Republic of China. --Francesca Bray, professor of social anthropology, University of Edinburgh