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Project Proposal

Insuring Health: Medicine and Society in the People's Republic of China, 1960–1980

Wayne Soon (History)

Project Description

This Ford Project aims to explore how health insurance has shaped medical care and research in postwar China. China sought to provide universal healthcare from 1960 to 1979 by increasing the numbers of commune-level health workers and barefoot doctors. However, cash-strapped ordinary people had to fund much of this medical expansion by paying into the commune-level health insurance program. While many more Chinese people could see a doctor due to top-down directives at expanding care, ordinary people’s care at the local level was uneven. While some communes enjoy better medical treatment over time, other communes struggled to keep up with medical demand due to the lack of resources. In sum, this project aims to collect historical materials relating to this topic. Materials could include oral history collections, newspaper articles, local gazetteers, novels and poems, government documents, posters, and so on, to explore the relationship between health insurance and medical care in postwar China.

Anticipated Project Activities

Before research commences, the instructor will share with the student briefly the history of medicine in China from the 1960s to the 1980s, as well as how to do historical research in China. The student will then visit provincial and municipal libraries in China and utilize their electronic and physical databases to find documents relating to health insurance and commune medicine from the 1950s to the early 1980s. These documents may include oral history collections, newspaper articles, local gazetteers, autobiographies, fictional novels and poems, government documents, and posters. The student will photocopy/photograph and share relevant materials with the instructor. The student can choose to write a paper or complete a creative project with the materials they have found if they wish.

Depending on the student’s interests, the student might want to conduct oral history interviews of barefoot doctors or visit local archives to mine for materials. These suggested activities may change depending on the evolving COVID situation and research conditions in June 2021.

Preferred Student Qualifications and Skills

It is preferred that the student can read some Mandarin Chinese (at least 900 characters with the help of a dictionary), type Chinese characters on a word processor, and have physical access to libraries in mainland China. The ability to speak Mandarin Chinese is a plus. The completion of an Asian Studies, History, or STS class is also a plus, but not necessary.

Anticipated Follow-up Teaching/Professional Activity for Student

With the instructor’s help, students can write a paper based on the materials they have found through their research and submit it to an undergraduate history or Asian Studies journal for publication. Alternatively, they can complete a creative project of their own choosing based on the materials collected."

Project Location

Full Remote

Project Duration

Four weeks

Project Start Date

June 7, 2021

Project End Date

July 6, 2021