Disease Prevention and State-building in China: The Rise and Fall of China’s Barefoot Doctor System (1968-1985)

University essay from Lunds universitet/Statsvetenskapliga institutionen; Lunds universitet/Graduate School

Abstract: Barefoot doctor system is an important part of primary health care policy changes in China after the founding of New China, is a special viewpoint to study the special period of grassroots political change. Why medical care’s come into the sight of top leaders at that time? What does medical care system mean to modern state building? There may be a certain natural link between the body and the national identity. Barefoot doctors used scientific medicine skills and their own political and moral advantage to build up a bridge connected the body and political mobilization. Body-Power-State, this obscure meaning was understood by the masses through the interpretation of the propaganda machine. On the basis of previous studies, this article did a systematic historical analysis of barefoot doctor system from the perspective of state-building, believing that the need of modern state-building is the main reason for its generation and decline. This theoretical and empirical trying also reflects the social logic and governing structure of rural China. The concern in this article is how barefoot doctors could strengthen patients’ national identity by curing the diseases. This study tries to look into the unique health care system phenomena through the lens of state building theory, which implies that modern state’s intension to strengthen its state capacity and reorganize the rural area’s governing structure, gave rise to the rise and fall of the barefoot doctor group who showed on the modern China’s history stage from 1960s to early 1980s(a period of time right during the state building process since 1949). The state foster and strengthen the national consciousness of the people through the barefoot doctor system; on the other side, barefoot doctor is an important national political mobilization system implementer, as a representative of the local forces, is a symbol of driving force of state-building, which is an important group that respond effectively to the medical needs of rural area. In this paper, empirical research around the barefoot doctor system is done, trying to show a picture of the history for a special period of grassroots’ state-building.

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