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Scientific Reproduction under the Public Gaze: Reconfiguring Women's Bodies and Health in China and Japan, 1920-1940s

Sat, April 2, 10:45am to 12:45pm, Washington State Convention Center, Floor: 6th Floor, Room 619

Session Submission Type: Organized Panel


After WWI, discourses over the issues of population and scientific medicine flourished in East Asian societies. While existing scholarship has examined these debates predominantly within intellectual communities, little is known about in what ways such powerful new knowledge regarding reproduction, birth control, and public health affect wider social groups, particularly working-class women in post-World War I China and Japan. This panel brings to light the activism of the gendered public influenced by complex ideas of science, medicine, and politics. Specifically from the perspectives of women's bodies and gendered individual experiences with medicine, this panel shows how different social groups perceived and approached reproduction. While Lee and David's papers highlight eugenic conceptions appropriated in reconstructing female bodies, Ma and Li underscore women's reproductive practices. In the case of interwar Japan, Lee dissects the ways in which reformers rationalized eugenic rhetoric to reconstruct proletarian women's bodies for socialist revolutionary goals. David's study on birth control activism in the work of Dr. Yang Chongrui shows paralleling efforts in Republican China to promote eugenic birth control awareness and protect female bodies. Focusing on the lower-class women in Republican Shanghai, Ma examines such unprivileged social groups' choices of abortive methods when folk remedy encountered western-style medicine. Such encounters were further explored in wartime nursing work with mothers and children in Li's work. Collectively, this set of papers brings the intersection of class, gender, knowledge, and practice to the forefront in rethinking women's agency, as well as social history of medicine and the body.

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