Mass Vaccination and the Chinese Communist Party

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The AAS Annual Conference is happening this upcoming March in Boston and ahead of the event, we asked author Mary Augusta Brazelton three questions about her new book Mass Vaccination: Citizens’ Bodies and State Power in Modern China, and her research on immunization and the Chinese Communist Party.

1. What’s your favorite anecdote from your research for Mass Vaccination?

I did a lot of research in the city of Kunming, capital of Yunnan province in China’s far southwest. I got to know local academics pretty well, and at the end of the year, they very kindly invited me to go out for a day in the countryside, eating local food, learning the ropes of mah-jong, and playing laser tag. The site specialized in historical reenactments, so our laser tag team ended up pretending to be the Nationalist Army fighting against Communists in the Chinese Civil War. It was much more of an immersion in my source material than I’d ever planned, although nobody needed any vaccines or other medical attention, thankfully.

2. What do you wish you had known when you started writing your book, that you know now?

That there’s no great mystery to the process—that doesn’t make the hard work of researching, writing, and revising any easier, but it does make it easier to get started. I also wish I’d kept a more organized method for filing! The vagaries of primary source research in China meant that I had to hand copy documents in some cases and transcribe them onto my laptop in others, in addition to the regular challenges of reproducing whatever materials I could. It took time to develop a system that worked.

3. How do you wish you could change the field of Asian studies?

I’d like to do everything I can to support more, and more extensive, communication and exchange between scholars in the Sinophone and non-Sinophone worlds. I hope that Asian studies continues to become more inclusive, both demographically in terms of the diversity of participant scholars and in terms of the variety of methodological approaches supported by its practitioners. I have found the AAS working group on Gender Equality in Asian Studies particularly inspiring in this regard.

Mary Augusta Brazelton teaches in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge. Her research focuses on the history of science, technology, and medicine in modern China and its place in global histories of science.

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