- Intimate Communities: Wartime Healthcare and the Birth of Modern China, 1937–1945 by Nicole Elizabeth Barnes
Nicole Barnes has written a fascinating history of Chinese health care through the critical lens of gender and emotions in modern China. Through a sophisticated analysis of archival materials, correspondences, fiction, memoirs, and speeches, Barnes argues for the centrality of women medical professionals in shaping wartime health care. Their experiences were bolstered and at times undermined by intense emotional labor, wartime contingencies, and Chinese Nationalist politics.
Chapter 1 delineates how the masculine Chinese Nationalist state sought to control the health of citizens in the wartime capital of Chongqing through the heads of neighborhood associations, police officers, and sanitation men. Chapter 2 argues that ordinary women maneuvered between elite women's model of national motherhood and prevailing literary notions of deferred romance to "fashion a national community out of docile bodies and to transform hearts" through medical delivery (p. 89). Chapters 3 and 4 reveal how the female nurses cast aside family obligations and social strictures to enter new public spaces to care for the wounded and sick, performing emotional labor as part of the state's exercise of necropolitics. This necropolitics resulted in many Chinese women seeing an "important aspect of wartime womanhood as the ability to prop up the nation's fighting men" (p. 115). Chapter 5 charts the promises and perils of modern midwifery in ameliorating problems of maternal and children health.
The key strength of the book is Barnes's ability to weave together multiple encounters among women and men to illustrate how women forged new intimate communities in hospitals, homes, medical training centers, and battlefronts. Their contributions offered ordinary Chinese residents "a new way of relating to one another in moments of bodily intimacy" (p. 195). Barnes also vividly illustrates how women's emotional labor came at a cost. Their active participation meant that they were often away from their families. Moreover, as illustrated in Barnes's careful analysis of writer Ba Jin's Ward Four (pp. 84–88), female doctors and nurses also faced unfair comments and undesired attention by male patients. Even as their efforts were pivotal in the making of a scientific Chinese state bent on expanding the power of necropolitics, their enterprises were not always cherished or acknowledged by male politicians, patients, and fellow medical personnel. Their leadership, however, became central to the shaping of medical care in twentieth-century China. The tribulations and contributions of the cosmopolitan Nationalist leader Song Meiling, indefatigable nursing expert Major General Zhou Meiyu, and preeminent midwifery specialist Marion Yang challenged existing narratives of male-centered histories of medicine in modern China.
Considering more the transnational biographies of Song, Zhou, and Yang may shed more light on how they approached questions of expertise and femininity. Their respective education at Wellesley College, Columbia University, and Johns Hopkins University in the United States might have heightened their resolve to professionalize medical care and promote biomedical education upon their return [End Page 630] to China. Furthermore, Song, Zhou, and Yang's identities as Chinese women in the United States may have shaped their perception of American feminism, labor, and medicine, as argued by Weili Ye in her unpacking of earlier Chinese women medical students in the United States.1 Such a transnational approach would highlight Barnes's critical point on the intersection of gender and class in women's medical work in China (p. 200), augmenting existing research on class and race in the history of nursing in the United States.2 Furthermore, their global experiences challenged the consolidation of a masculine Chinese state, which partly emerged from the Late Qing and Republican Chinese politicians and intellectuals' response to the imperialistic gaze on the alleged "weak" Chinese body.3 The formation of an intimate wartime community by women medical professionals presented both a national and a global challenge to the transnational structures of masculinity circulating within and outside of China.
This book is an essential read for its...