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Medical Humanities Initiative Work-in-Progress Talk 

Less Reproduction, More Production: Birth Control in the Early People’s Republic of China, 1949-1958

Presented by Sarah Mellors, PhD Candidate in History, UCI School of Humanities. Winner of the 2017 Medical Humanities Graduate Student Essay Prize

Date: Wednesday, January 24, 2018
Time: 4:00 – 5:30 p.m.
Location: Humanities Gateway 1010. Parking is $10 in Mesa Parking Structure (directions).

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Abstract: In the early years of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), the Chinese Communist Party banned all birth control medicines and devices, sterilization surgeries, and abortions. However, over the next three decades the Party gradually reversed this ban and moved to aggressive birth prevention. Much has been written about population policies in China since the 1979 enactment of the One-Child Policy, but few scholars have approached this topic from a historical and ethnographic perspective. This presentation, based on a dissertation chapter, uses interviews and archival research to explore experiences with contraception in China from the founding of the PRC in October 1949 until 1958. We will survey the types of birth control techniques urban Chinese were using in the 1950s, investigate how high-level policy changes in the early years of the PRC informed individual experiences with contraception, and identify the circumstances in which individuals typically practiced family planning. In so doing, this project complicates the scholarly claim that China’s population expanded rapidly in the 1950s because couples were not practicing family planning.