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Yier Xu

Project Title

Medical Pluralism at the Periphery: Health, Modernity and Identity in Guangxi, China, 1920s-1940s


Project description

In many ethnic-minority regions of China, multiple forms of medical practice and knowledge play a role in healthcare. Some people in ethnic minority communities turn to religious forms of treatment, such as enchantment and rituals, which have often been the traditional means of healthcare. This means that multiple forms of healthcare coexist, but there is a lack of extensive, historically-grounded research on what this means in practice.

My project will explore how this situation can be traced back to the early and mid-twentieth century by studying medical plurality in Guangxi, a peripheral, multi-ethnic province in Southwestern China. I will consider how medical practices and knowledge in different communities – Western missionaries, Western-trained doctors, Han Chinese and ethnic minorities – interacted with each other. I will also examine how modernity was defined and identities were changed through the interaction. A historical analysis of these relationships will allow us to understand the tensions that exist between different forms of healthcare today, and suggest pathways toward more cooperative forms of engagement among different medical communities.

Research Grants

Wellcome Trust Doctoral Studentships (2019)

Conference Papers

  • “Leprosy Patients: Popular Images and Understanding of Self-identity,” Annual Conference of Chinese Sociological Association, Symposium of Medicine and Community in a Changing Society, Sociology School, Tsinghua University (August, 2020)
  • “Nursing: A Modern Profession for Women,” Joint Atlantic Seminar in East Asian Science, Technology, and Medicine (April, 2021)

Previous Roles

TA of HIS2317, The Aftermath of War in Europe and Asia 1945-56


MA History, Newcastle University (2017-18)