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ā€˜Barefoot doctorsā€™ were designed as an innovative task force during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) to provide health care to rural villages in China. Without formal training that would identify the group professionally, barefoot doctors were at once amateur medical practitioners and expert revolutionary actors in Communist Party propaganda. At stake in legitimating revolutionary medicine was allowing revolutionary spirit to supplement for minimal medical training. As a result, the symbolic power of representing barefoot doctors rested in showcasing their devotion to enhancing access to health care in rural China. These representations followed an intensifying militarization of civilians, embracing the barefoot doctorā€™s ability to survive any obstacle while also celebrating those who died in the process. This paper examines three public portrayals of barefoot doctors, arguing that conflicting idealizations of rural epistemology combined the opposing elements of self-cultivation and self-annihilation to unite the identity of an emerging group of amateur doctors and illustrate acceptable forms of medical and revolutionary expertise.


Lan Angela Li. The edge of expertise: Representing barefoot doctors in Cultural Revolution China. Endeavour. 2015 Sep-Dec;39(3-4):160-7

PMID: 27064158

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