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The discourse of disability in modern China

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With the collapse of the imperial system, Confucianism rapidly lost its credibility and authority. 'Nature' was now conceptualized as a set of relatively impersonal forces that could be objectively investigated. No longer were physical bodies thought of as being linked to the cosmological foundations of the universe: bodies were produced according to biological laws inherent in 'nature'. Identity and ancestry were buried deep inside the body. With the spread of an alternative epistemology based on scientific knowledge, a new medical semiology of the 'monster' appeared, in which the causes of malformation were firmly attributed to purely physical factors. Malformed infants came to be symbolic representations of racial degeneration, while freaks embodied the disfigurement of the nation. Raising the spectre of racial extinction, many writers claimed that the poor physical quality of the population was one of the key causes of the nation's backwardness. The strengthening of the population and the improvement of the race were represented as the essential prerequisites for national survival.
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Keywords: China; disability; eugenics; stigmatization

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: History department, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, UK

Publication date: 2002-01-01

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