Childbirth, Maternity, and Medical Pluralism in French Colonial Vietnam, 1880-1945

November 2016
18 black and white, 22 line illustrations
254 pages
9x6 in
Rochester Studies in Medical History
Library eBook
University of Rochester Press
BISAC HIS048000, MED039000, SOC028000

Childbirth, Maternity, and Medical Pluralism in French Colonial Vietnam, 1880-1945

Thuy Linh Nguyen

Explores the complex interactions between French medicine and Vietnamese childbirth traditions, documenting the emergence of a plural system of maternity services that incorporated both biomedical knowledge and local birthing traditions.
This book explores the interactions between French medicine and Vietnamese childbirth traditions, examining how these interactions shaped maternal and infant health care in Vietnam. Armed with the language and expertise of modern medicine, French physicians and administrators set out on a mission to relocate Vietnamese childbirth to a clinical setting. But as the French ventured into indigenous communities, they found themselves negotiating with a myriad of Vietnamese cultural practices relating to childbirth and infant care.

Thwarted by local resistance, cultural misunderstanding, and ambiguous policy, the Western model of hospital birth neither displaced nor transformed indigenous birthing traditions in the ways the French had envisioned. Instead, as author Thuy Linh Nguyen demonstrates, the emergence of a plural system of maternity services, many of which were based on local practices and beliefs, served as a testimony to the compromises and adaptations made by both the French and Vietnamese populations.

Thuy Linh Nguyen is assistant professor of history at Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh, NY.

Table of Contents

The First Encounters
Maternity Hospitals
Colonial Midwives
The Bà mu and Childbirth Pluralism
Scientific Motherhood and the Teaching of Maternity
The Depression Era and the Discovery of the Child


In this lucid and captivating study, Nguyen draws on a wide range of colonial-era sources in both French and Vietnamese to uncover a never-before told story about the deiversity of everyday experiences that shaped the delivery of infant and maternal health care in early twentieth-century Vietnam. SOCIAL HISTORY OF MEDICINE

[A] cogently argued and effectively documented study . . . One of the great strengths of this work is the way in which women's own testimony is brought to light. But this is far from being a doctrinaire study of race, exploitation, and resistance. What Nguyen does so effectively is to present a complex and evolving historical and social trajectory in which it is not only the French who moved. Vietnamese society itself became more diverse and pluralistic: the old, the new, and the in-between coexisted. ISIS

Childbirth, Maternity, and Medical Pluralism in French Colonial Vietnam, 1880-1945 will be of interest to a range of scholars: those interested in the link between colonial medicine and empire building; the tensions inherent in introducing and implementing western biomedical values and practices in non-western medical contexts; how race, class, gender, and religious and cultural values inflect medical practitioners' (both French and Vietnamese) provision of health care; the social and administrative processes through which plural medical systems emerge; how the Vietnamese have incorporated and transformed values and practices from elsewhere for their own benefit; and early examples of how Vietnamese women's personal private reproductive lives became of concern to the state. MEDICAL HISTORY

This study, which traces the history of the introduction of Western obstetrical medicine in Vietnam, is a timely contribution to the field of colonial gender studies. . . . The strength of the book lies in its use of both French and Vietnamese sources to illustrate the cultural differences between colonizers and colonized over childbirth, mothering, and infant care. FRENCH STUDIES

Childbirth, Maternity, and Medical Pluralism in French Vietnam, 1880-1945 is well written and grounded with strong empirical sources. . . . I recommend this book for both undergraduate and graduate classes on the history of science, women's health, and imperialism. JOURNAL OF SOCIAL HISTORY

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