In the 1920s and 1930s, elite reformers ventured into the Chinese countryside, eager to bring new health practices to rural people in order to strengthen the nation. In rural Ding County (Dingxian), an organization called the Mass Education Movement crafted a program of public health reform that took the rural home and family as the central reform targets. Through examinations of midwifery, family planning, home design, and infant and child healthcare, this article plumbs the interstices between reformers’ visions of and plans for reforming village family life and the expectations and desires of villagers. Health modernizers drew strict lines between “traditional” China, where they believed matters of family health were kept behind closed doors, and the new China they were working toward, where individual and family health was subject to public scrutiny. However, the varied reactions of rural people to their proposals—accepting some, rejecting others—highlights that rural people’s concerns rested not on issues of secrecy or privacy but on questions of power, expertise, and efficacy. The reformers’ persistent focus on what they saw as villagers’ superstitious and traditional notions of privacy as barriers to change meant that they disregarded village internal politics and power dynamics and, ultimately, limited the effectiveness of their reforms.


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pp. 881-903
Launched on MUSE
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