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Higher Education Modules

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

Class 6: Patterns of Chinese Health Education


Students discuss the significance of public health in China’s national development, paying attention to the implications of public health to national political, economic, and social modernization. Students are expected to summarize the major themes of the public health campaigns in 20th-century China. They are encouraged to compare Chinese health campaigns with public health education in the West to find common patterns and major differences. Such comparison intends to enhance students’ understanding of the different meanings of public health in different settings.


Helfand, William H. “‘Some One Sole Unique Advertisement’: Public Health Posters in the Twentieth Century.” In Imagining Illness: Public Health and Visual Culture. Edited by David Serlin. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2010, pp. 126-142.

Sutphen, Mary P. “Not What, but Where: Bubonic Plague and the Reception of Germ Theories in Hong Kong and Calcutta, 1894-1897.” Journal of the History of Medicine 52 (1997): 81-113.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What were the major themes in Chinese health campaigns?
  2. Was government important in promoting health information for the public?
  3. How were the public health campaigns related to China’s modernization in the 20th-century? Do you see a few distinct periods in the campaigns throughout the century?
  4. What were the major health concerns in China? Were they different from Western societies? Why?

Class project: paper and power point presentation

Pair up the students; each pair chooses a specific topic related to the public health campaigns covered in the module, and write an 8-page paper, excluding images. The topic must be discussed with and approved by the instructor. The paper must be double spaced with normal font of 12 points, and cite a minimum of 6 scholarly books and journal articles. Each paper must use at least 4 poster images for discussion and analysis. Students will make a 10-minute power-point presentation of their papers. Classmates will have 10 minutes to comment and ask questions on each presentation.