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Building the Nation through Women's Health: Modern Midwifery in Early Twentieth-Century China

Phillips, Tina (2007) Building the Nation through Women's Health: Modern Midwifery in Early Twentieth-Century China. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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China's nation-building agenda in the early twentieth century embraced the causes of women's rights and medical modernization. Modernizers considered the poor health of the Chinese population to be a major impediment to progress. Specifically, modern midwifery would improve the health of the nation at its most fundamental level, both by lowering the high infant mortality rate and by securing the well-being of future generations. Amid growing interest in maternal and child health, women entered the Western medical profession as midwives, nurses, and obstetrician/gynecologists. Local and national governments in China supported midwife training and research for the health of future generations. China's central government established a National Midwifery Board in 1929 to create and oversee training programs and enact laws to regulate modern midwives and physicians. Medical professionals and associations had enough political clout to transform public health policy. They successfully lobbied for legislation and actively advocated adopting aspects of Western medicine for women.Midwives engendered better and stronger generations by using new methods and equipment. Furthermore, midwife training allowed Chinese women to participate in modernization by joining the labor force, thus challenging traditional Chinese notions of female passivity and seclusion. At the same time, however, these modern midwives displaced the traditional old-style "birth grannies" who had served as social and ritual mediators within the family and community. This research examines midwifery and childbirth technologies introduced into China in the early twentieth century in relation to nation building, modernization, and changing gender ideologies. By using biographical data, legislation, and articles in the popular press, among other sources, I explore the changing notions of gender propriety that prompted Chinese women to utilize Western-trained midwives, read literature dealing with such intimate matters as childbirth and prenatal training, give birth in hospitals or maternity clinics, and enter the medical profession as midwives.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairRawski, Evelynesrx@pitt.eduESRX
Committee MemberJannetta,
Committee MemberGreenwald, Maurinegreenwal@pitt.eduGREENWAL
Committee MemberConstable, Nicoleconstable@fcas.pitt.eduNCGRAD
Committee Memberscher, Seymoursyd@pitt.eduSYD
Date: 30 January 2007
Date Type: Completion
Defense Date: 23 August 2006
Approval Date: 30 January 2007
Submission Date: 3 November 2006
Access Restriction: 5 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 5 years.
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > History
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Nationalist Era; Professionalization; Women and Gender; Guomindang; Modernization
Other ID:, etd-11032006-153843
Date Deposited: 10 Nov 2011 20:03
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 13:51


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