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Higher Education Modules

Disseminating Health Knowledge: Public Health Campaigns in 20th-Century China

Class 5: Children’s Hygiene Education, 1930s and 1950s–1980s


Children’s hygiene education was part of the health education movement under both the Nationalist and the Communist governments. In 1929, a central “School Hygiene Committee” was established under the auspices of the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education. School hygiene education gradually became standardized in elementary and secondary schools in the cities. The term “health education” also became commonly used as increasing numbers of health educational institutions were established and health education teachers trained in the 1920s–1930s. Children’s hygiene posters appeared in the health campaigns in the 1930s and throughout the 1950s–1980s. These visual health materials were clear and gentle in presentation. They promoted the development of healthy behavior, namely, love of cleanliness, exercise, fresh air, vaccination, no spitting, washing hands and keeping utensils clean. The images also encouraged the training of good moral character of the young, such as being diligent and helpful to others, and being honest and brave to admit mistakes.

The class has a hands-on project: using the poster images of the following websites, and discussion questions, students examine and interpret the key health messages of the posters. They compare and contrast those of the 1930s with those of the 1950s–1980s to understand the continuity and change of the key health and moral messages that the images intended to convey to the young audience.


Primary Sources

Iammarino, Nicholas K. “Glimpses of Health Programs in the People’s Republic of China: Health Education in Schools.” Journal of School Health 53.2 (February 1983): 104–106.

Yip, Ka-che. Health and National Reconstruction in Nationalist China: The Development of Modern Health Services, 1928-1937. Ann Arbor, MI: Association for Asian Studies, Inc. 1995, pp. 124-131.

Online visual material for class use:

National Library of Medicine. “Hygiene Education for Children.” Chinese Public Health Posters. //

___. “Children’s Health.” Health for the People: Continuity and Change in Asian Medicine. //

___. “General Anti-Tuberculosis Posters.” Consumptive Disease: Chinese Anti-Tuberculosis Posters, 1950-1980. //

___. “Posters Promoting BCG (Bacille Calmette-Guérin) Vaccination.” Consumptive Disease: Chinese Anti-Tuberculosis Posters, 1950-1980. // (only the children’s posters).

Discussion Questions:

  1. What were the common themes of the children’s hygiene education in the 1930s and the 1950s-1980s? Any significant differences between the two periods? Why?
  2. Do you think visual storytelling is an effective way to teach children about health issues? Why or why not?
  3. Why was children’s health education important in China? Is it important for any society?
  4. In these Chinese visual images, what good moral values were taught to the children besides good health behavior? Do you find the same in your own country’s health education for children?