Health and Medicine in Twentieth-Century China: Celebrating CMB's 100th Anniversary in 2014

Authors gather at Endicott House

2014 marks the 100th anniversary of the China Medical Board. With a century of engagement in China, several questions naturally arise: What are the historical implications of China’s century-long search to provide health care for its people? What lessons can be learned for the future? Those questions provide the impetus for a CMB project that examines the history of modern medicine and public health in China in the twentieth century. A team of Chinese and international scholars, led by historians Mary Brown Bullock, Chair of the CMB Board of Trustees and Bridie Andrews, Professor of History, Bentley University have launched a project to examine the history of modern medicine and public health in China in the twentieth century.

Authors presented their studies of significant cultural, scientific, political, and economic transitions of the past century at a workshop held at MIT’s Endicott House on December 10-11, 2011. Noted is that life expectancy in China doubled during the twentieth century – one of the era’s great successes – but how have changes in the practice of medicine, politics, or economics catalyzed these advances? Study abroad for medical professionals was an important feature of Republican China and has continued during the era of reform and opening; what impact have these returnees had on their home country? The need for battlefield medical facilities was one driver of the Chinese government’s interest in modern medicine; can traces of this legacy still be seen the current practice of medicine? What were the health system changes introduced with the Communist victory in 1949 and during the opening of the Chinese economy starting around 1980?

This research will culminate in a book, scheduled for publication in 2014, CMB’s centennial year. “CMB’s history has been inextricably linked to the evolution of China’s health sector,” said CMB President Lincoln Chen, “from the introduction of modern medical practices in the early twentieth century to the current-day challenge of providing equitable access to quality care. So we expect this volume will help people understand how CMB’s 100 years of work fit into a broader Chinese medical, cultural, and social context.” Further details on CMB’s 100th anniversary plans can be found on the CMB Centennial page.