Reproducing China: Childbirth, One Child, and Beyond

13 July 2012 - 14 July 2012

CRASSH, Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road, Cambridge CB3 9DT


Dr Leon Antonio Rocha (Emmanuel College, Cambridge and Freie Universität Berlin)
Dr Lily Chang (History/Magdalene College, University of Cambridge)
Dr Howard Chiang (Princeton University and Academia Sinica, Taiwan)
Professor Volker Scheid (University of Westminster)



Conference summary



This conference brings together established scholars and junior researchers in East Asian history, history of medicine, sociology, political science, anthropology and gender studies, to present their cutting-edge work on the multiple facets of reproductive science, medicine, and technology in modern China.


Our conference responds to the blossoming of scholarship in recent years on women, sex and reproduction in late-Imperial and modern China. While many studies tell us a great deal about China, we need more research that confront directly how scientific theories and medical expertise move across cultures, between China and different parts of the world. Taking up the continual critical interest in appropriations and disseminations, we investigate the movement and circulation of expertise, personnel, and material culture related to sexuality, reproduction, fertility, childbirth and population around the world. We want to understand how European and American scientific discourses interacted with Chinese discourses, and how so-called “indigenous” ideas concerning sex and reproduction became defined, incorporated or excluded. We analyse some of the long-range networks of historical and contemporary actors engaged in projects of translation and popularisation. In sum, we wish to build upon and go beyond current debates on “knowledge in transit” in the history of science and medicine.


All of the contributors at our conference will mobilise a comparative and global approach to the question of reproduction in China. We aim to produce not only new scholarship on China, but simultaneously new insights on the mechanisms and dynamics of transmissions of reproductive knowledges around the world. Themes covered include: sexology and history of the body in China; conceptualisations of fertility and Chinese medicine; life and biopolitics; childbirth and reproductive technologies; population policies and demographic studies.


Accommodation for delegates

We are unable to arrange accommodation, however, the following websites may be of help.

NB. CRASSH is not able to help with the booking of accommodation.



The conveners are grateful for the support of a Cambridge Humanities Research Grant, the 'Generation to Reproduction' programme through a Wellcome Trust Strategic Award in the history of medicine to the Department of History and Philosophy of Science, Needham Research Institute, Cambridge, Department of East Asian Studies, University of Cambridge and the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH) at the University of Cambridge, and the University of Westminster.


Administrative assistance: Helga Brandt (Conference Programme Manager, CRASSH)

Conference programme

Fri, 13 July 2012


9.00 - 9.30

Registration and coffee

9.30 - 10.00

Welcome and Introduction

10.00 - 12.00

I. Bodies and sexuality

  • Howard Chiang (Princeton University and Academia Sinica, Taiwan): Sex and the making of China: From eunuchs to transsexuals
  • David Luesink (Indiana University—Purdue University Indianapolis): The politics of translation and standardisation of terminologies for reproductive anatomy in China
  • Sun Liying (University of Heidelberg): Natural breasts (tianru)? Breast-(un)binding, breastfeeding, beauty and body
Chair:  Helen Schneider (University of Oxford/Virginia Tech)

12.00 - 14.00 


14.00 - 16.00 

II.  Fertility and medicine

  • Vivienne Lo (University College London): Aphrodisiacs, conception and yangsheng in China
  • Volker Scheid (University of Westminster): How did the general become a chicken? The ungendering of constraint (yuzheng) in Chinese medicine
  • Elisabeth Hsu (University of Oxford): Qi in reproduction, tactility in childcare, sociality in the house: Revisiting (scientific) concepts of matter
Chair:  Francesca Bray (University of Edinburgh)

16.00 - 16.30 


16.30  - 17.50

III. Life and Biopolitics

  • Christos Lynteris (University of Cambridge): China's New Bioeconomic Policy: Reproducing Migrant Bodies in Exception

  • Kerstin Klein (Homerton University Hospital): Reproductive or Productive Value? Embryonic Life at the Intersection of IVF and Stem Cell Research in China

Chair: Leon Antonio Rocha (University of Cambridge/Freie Universität Berlin)


Conference dinner


Sat, 14 July 2012


9.30 - 10.00

Registration and coffee

10.00 - 12.00

IV. Reproduction and childbirth

  • Tina Phillips Johnson (Saint Vincent College): Imagining childbirth in republican China
  • Bridie Andrews (Bentley University): Birth control in China before the “One Child Policy”
  • Wei Wei Cao (Keele University):  Abortion Law, “One Child Policy” and Women’s Reproductive Autonomy in Post-Maoist China

Chair:  Lily Chang (Magdalene College, Cambridge)

12.00 - 14.00 


14.00 - 16.00 

V.  Population and demography

  • Malcolm Thompson (University of Toronto): The social costs of births and deaths: Economising reproduction in China, 1912-1937
  • Mary Brazelton (Yale Universty): Eugenics, ethnic minorities and birth patterns in early communist China: Changing demographies of Yunnan, 1949-1958
  • Arunabh Ghosh (Columbia University):  Sripati Chandrasekhar (1918-2001) and China's "Population Problem"

Chair:  Simon Szreter (University of Cambridge)

16.00 - 16.30 


16.30 - 18.00

Roundtable discussion and goodbyes


  • Harriet Evans (University of Westminster)
  • Christos Lynteris (University of Cambridge)
  • Helen Schneider (University of Oxford / Virginia Tech)