SOAS University of London

SOAS China Institute

The Mass Biopolitics of Medicine in Socialist China

Ban Wang
Ban Wang, William Haas Professor in Chinese Studies, Stanford University

Date: 25 October 2021Time: 5:00 PM

Finishes: 25 October 2021Time: 6:30 PM

Venue: Virtual Event

Type of Event: Webinar



The Covid-19 pandemic has revealed the abyss of inequality of health care in terms of class, nation, and race. While plagued by problems of inequality, medicine in socialist China strove to achieve equality by relying on mass initiatives and by rejecting the technocratic medical elite. The medical reforms during the Cultural Revolution gave primacy to popular participation, decentralization, and community power.

This talk will discuss the films Spring Comes to Withered Trees (Kumu fengchun 枯木逢春, 1961) and Spring Shoots (Chunmiao春苗, 1975). From the dual perspective of biopolitics and political ecology, I show that the peasantry’s raised political consciousness and participation in combatting epidemics and disease. A new subjectivity emerged, embodied by the image of the barefoot doctor and collective medicine. In the mass-based medical revolution, the rural masses take control of their bodies and health, form a new affective solidarity and mutual care network, and empower themselves in learning and practicing both modern and folk medicine in tune the local environment. These films project a vision of health care for the people and challenge the privileged heath system skewed in favor of elites and urbanites.

About the speaker

Ban Wang is the William Haas Professor in Chinese Studies in East Asian Languages and Cultures and Comparative Literature at Stanford University. His major publications include The Sublime Figure of History (1997), Illuminations from the Past (2004), History and Memory (Lish yu jiyi) (2004), and China in the World: Culture, Politics, and World Vision (forthcoming in February 2022). He has edited and co-edited 8 book on the fields of Chinese studies, including Chinese Visions of World Order: Tianxia, Culture, and Word Politics (2017), Words and Their Stories (2011) and Trauma and Cinema (2004). He has taught at SUNY-Stony Brook, Harvard, Rutgers, East China Normal University, Yonsei, and Seoul National University.


This webinar will take place online via Zoom. Click here to register.

Chair: Professor Steve Tsang, Director, SOAS China Institute

Organiser: SOAS China Institute

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