The Language and History of Public Health in China

03.23.2020 - By Barbarians at the Gate

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The outbreak of Covid-19 has drawn attention to public health in China and around the world. In the early stages, there was considerable criticism of China's initial handling of the outbreak. This criticism drew an emotional response in China. In this episode of Barbarians at the Gate, Jeremiah Jenne and David Moser look at the intimate link in Chinese history between public health, hygiene, and modernity.

Note: In the podcast, we mention China's expulsion of Wall Street Journal reporters Josh Chin, Chao Deng, and Philip Wen ( Since we taped the podcast, the situation has escalated and last week the government pulled the press cards of all US citizens working as reporters in China for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post ( Local employees at those bureaus have also been pressured to leave their jobs ( We don’t mention those events here, but we will be discussing the situation on an upcoming podcast.

Here are links to some of the articles, books, and websites mentioned during the podcast:

Walter Russell Mead, China is the Sick Man of Asia (, Wall Street Journal (February 3, 2020)

Jeremiah Jenne, Empires of Disease: Why the Coronavirus is an emotional issue for China and the World (, Radii China (February 10, 2020)

Ruth Rogaski, Hygienic Modernity: Meanings of Health and Disease in Treaty-Port China ( (2004)

Mao Zedong, “A Study of Physical Education (” (New Youth xin qingnian, 1917)

Karl Taro Greenfeld, China Syndrome: The True Story of the 21st Century's First Great Epidemic ( (2009)

Chinese Propaganda Posters website (

Poster: "Everybody must take precautions against epidemics (" (1952)

Poster: "Less births, better births, to develop China vigorously (" (1987)

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