Barefoot Doctors and Western Medicine in China

Barefoot Doctors and Western Medicine in China

Xiaoping Fang

Personal eBook

University of Rochester Press



The first study in English that examines barefoot doctors in China from the perspective of the social history of medicine.
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.


8 black and white, 12 line illustrations
310 pages
9x6 in
Rochester Studies in Medical History
Hardback, 9781580464338, December 2012
Paperback, 9781580465212, April 2015
Personal eBook, 9781580468961, December 2012
Library eBook
University of Rochester Press
BISAC MED039000, HIS008000, HIS037070
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Table of Contents

Village Healers, Medical Pluralism, and State Medicine
Revolutionizing Knowledge Transmission Structures
Pharmaceuticals Reach the Villages
Healing Styles and Medical Beliefs: The Consumption of Chinese and Western Medicines
Relocating Illness: The Shift from Home Bedside to Hospital Ward
Group Identity, Power Relationships, and Medical Legitimacy
The Organization of the Three-Tiered Medical System in Rural China, 1968-83
Common Medicines in Chinese Villages during the 1960s-70s


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. 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

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

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