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Disease in the Capital: Nationalist Health Services and the ‘Sick [Wo]man of East Asia’ in Wartime Chongqing

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The Chongqing Bureau of Public Health, established shortly after the Nationalists relocated to the wartime capital, faced frequent air raids, rampant inflation, and acute personnel shortages. Still it accomplished an astonishing amount of work, demonstrating its commitment to public health as a barometer of modernity, national stability, and political fitness. The Bureau also treated male and female bodies differently, institutionalizing gender roles through its public health administration. This paper illustrates differences between medical care for men and women, arguing that Chongqing health officials’ myopic focus on maternal issues when discussing women’s healthcare, their failure to address highly skewed gender ratios in the patient reports and vaccination statistics that their office received on a monthly basis, and the relatively late opening of the city’s most substantial maternal health facilities, all point to male-centric priorities within the administration. Military health took priority not only because of the war, but because soldiers’ health conditions and facilities were so appallingly dismal. Thus, wartime health conditions reveal the continued haunting of modern China’s great specter, the “Sick Man of East Asia,” and two types of disease in the wartime capital: the Nationalist state, politically diseased, failed to protect its civilians and soldiers from common diseases.

Affiliations: 1: Boston College


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