Current Institutional Affiliation
Doctoral Candidate, History, Columbia University

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2011
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
East Asian Languages and Cultures, Columbia University
The Female Hand: The Making of Professional Women’s Medicine in Modern China, 1880-1940

The turn of the twentieth century witnessed the emergence of Western-trained women doctors, who obtained expertise from a missionary education, in Chinese society. The establishment of medical profession for women—not only in terms of medical knowledge, but also in the very idea of a profession with established standards of training, shared technical skills, and common ideals of service—was a striking social phenomenon bridging the late imperial and early Republican periods (1880-1940). My dissertation examines the making of the modern women physicians during this period. By integrating historical analysis with material culture studies, I explore how the professionalization of women’s medicine was embedded in the history of everyday practices of healing at the Hackett Medical Complex for Women in Canton. My goals are three-fold. First, foregrounding Chinese female physicians as practitioners who were learning and doing medicine in a concrete medical setting, I highlight the way daily life contributed to the history of professionalization. Second, I hope to illuminate a distinct paradigm of knowledge transmission and the nature of women doctors’ experience. My premise is that “medical profession” is not a set of abstract criteria used to identify a group of expert with a certain “professional frame of mind;” it is rather a process embedded in the concreteness of medical actions—observing, diagnosing, and treating patients—in the daily practice of medical work. Finally, a delineation of female experience with medical profession produces an alternative framework of social analysis and political agenda from that of the male profession. I suggest that missionary medicine altered China’s female healing practice by implementing new technological instruments (e.g. forceps) and ideas in the birth room. In other words, the female definition of medical professionalism was articulated not through political or legal means, but through material and technological strategies.