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Full Access Children's Healthcare and Astrology in the Nurturing of a Central Tibetan Nation-State, 1916–24

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Children's Healthcare and Astrology in the Nurturing of a Central Tibetan Nation-State, 1916–24

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Between 1916 and 1924, a Tibetan public healthcare programme that focused on childcare and natal astrology comprised a central aspect of the mission of the Lhasa Mentsikhang (Institute of Medicine and Astrology). Assessing previously unused Tibetan language materials—including the Thirteenth Dalai Lama's edict for implementation and an accompanying childcare manual—the programme is contextualized with regard to regional developments in British India and China. Like British 'mothercraft' education programmes of the same period, the Tibetan initiative links the health of the population (from infancy) to the health of the state and its economy. Rather than appealing to the authority of 'scientific' colonial medicine, however, this paper discusses how indigenous medical techniques and theories are put forward as effective means to prove the nascent Central Tibetan state's benevolence, legitimacy and sovereignty via intervention in the domestic sphere. Such attention to medical reform and to the domestic sphere brings light to an underappreciated effort by the Thirteenth Dalai Lama to cultivate a sense of Tibetan subjecthood and to reconfigure the relationship between his government and various segments of society. Significantly, this childcare initiative was entrusted not just to mothers, and the category of class is here more germane than the category of gender central within British programmes. Various social groups within a specifically delineated Tibetan territory are assigned tasks in the programme's implementation, illustrating the desire to incorporate each into a reorganised Tibetan state bound by a newly articulated Buddhist ideal of shared social responsibility.

Affiliations: 1: Columbia University


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