NIH Grant To Fund Study on Public Health in China
In the first half of the 20th century, a picture was worth a
thousand words in conveying scientific health knowledge to a largely
illiterate population in China.
Analyzing their effectiveness is part of a major research project by Alma College Professor Liping Bu, who has been awarded a $130,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health for a two-year study that examines the history of public health education and campaigns in 20th century China.
To her knowledge, no other comprehensive study of Chinese public health campaigns exists, says Bu.
poster from the 1960s explains how malaria is spread by mosquitos, and
that the eradication of mosquitos is an important means of preventing
malaria. Posters with vivid images and succinct text were effective
“My purpose is to write a book-length manuscript about public
health and the modernization of China,” says the China-born and
educated Bu, who has been a member of the Alma College history faculty
since 1999. “I’ve been working on this project since 2001 when I
started doing archival research.”
Bu’s research has taken her to archival collections in China as well as the National Library of Medicine in Bethesda, Md., the Rockefeller Archive Center in New York, and Cambridge University in England.
Her NIH-funded project, titled “Public Health Education and Campaigns in China, 1910-1990,” will extend her research to study how science, culture and modernization intersected in the area of public health.
“Public health campaigns were an essential element in creating a modern, strong Chinese nation,” says Bu. “I will examine how the Chinese elite, government regimes and private institutions tried to educate the public about health issues and the tension that existed between traditional Chinese medicine and modern Western medicine in public health programs.”
study will draw on archival documents, oral histories and visual
materials to analyze the different public health concerns that were
closely tied to China’s political and economic developments at
It also will examine the dominance of scientific knowledge of medicine in public health education, the challenge of transmitting scientific knowledge of health and diseases to a large population with a high illiteracy rate, and how health campaigns contributed to the reduction and elimination of epidemic diseases such as smallpox, cholera and malaria.
Her study on how public health campaigns influence change in health-related behavior offers useful lessons for many nations today, including China, says Bu.
“Literacy is essential for health education to be effective, and government’s role is crucial for national health care reforms to be successful,” says Bu. “This study has useful relevance to current public health concerns in different nations.”
Bu teaches American foreign relations and modern Chinese and Japanese history. Her academic articles on international cultural relations, modernization and nation building, and state and society have appeared in numerous research journals. Every two years, she leads a class of Alma College students to China as part of a Spring Term course titled “China: Past and Present.”
Posted: Tue, March 24th, 2009 at 2:54PM