The Daily Life of Hygiene and Public Health in Republican China

by Sarah Yu

May 7, 2020

The Peking Union Medical College was the leading medical education institution in China for decades, producing doctors and nurses whose qualifications were on par with those from American universities. But alongside the running of this medical college and attached hospital, the China Medical Board was also involved in the conception, establishment, staffing, and funding of a range of smaller-scale, localised initiatives that prioritised public health and hygiene education at the grassroots level. From the Rockefeller Archive Center, I gathered reports, accounts, and correspondence about such projects as the Peking First Health Station, the Shanghai Kao-Chiao Health Demonstration Area, and the Mass Education Movement at Ting Hsien, to demonstrate how hygiene was taught and health services were provided to Chinese laypeople in the early twentieth century. The China Medical Board worked with local governments, sponsors, and reformists to adapt global ideals of hygienic reform and localise them for norms and culture. In time, they would create distinctly Chinese models of communal hygiene that could be emulated throughout Republican China. My dissertation examines the experiences of these reformists and highlights how the proliferation of their projects features in the everyday lives of the Chinese people in the early twentieth century. Moreover, it demonstrates that public health initiatives thrived on the municipal, provincial, and county levels, even when the centralised national government was in flux.

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