Introducing "Health for the People," an NLM Online Exhibition of Chinese Public Health Posters, Transparencies and Pharmaceutical Ads
The National Library of Medicine, the world's largest medical library and a component of the National Institutes of Health, announces "Health for the People," a new Web exhibit focusing on Chinese public health posters and other paper ephemera. You can explore it at //www.nlm.nih.gov/exhibition/healthforthepeople/index.html.
Acquired by the Library in 2006, the Chinese poster collection consists of about 3,000 items. "We probably have the largest collection of Chinese public health posters outside of China," said Paul Theerman, PhD, chief of Images and Archives in the History of Medicine Division.
The collection is mostly made up of posters from the People's Republic (or post-revolutionary) era, from the 1950s through the 1970s. In the days before the Internet and the 24/7 news cycle, the Chinese government relied on posters to get health messages out to its citizens.
Organized into four the sections, the posters urge citizens to pursue healthy habits. For example, in the Children's Section, a poster encourages children to, "Love Cleanliness and Sanitation." A series of transparencies teaches children how to admit their mistakes and correct their peers' inappropriate behavior. A poster in the Family Planning Section encourages women to carry out family planning for the revolution, while the Medical Advertisement Section touts the benefits of progesterone and methyltestosterone, potent over-the-counter hormone therapies.
The Four Pests Section presents posters from a 1958 campaign focused on rats, sparrows, flies and mosquitoes. "Eradicate pests and diseases and build happiness for ten thousand generations," urges one poster. The campaigns were short-lived and unsuccessful; more enduring were the efforts to improve water quality and waste treatment, which led to dramatic reductions in the epidemic diseases of cholera, plague and typhoid.
The Chinese were far more successful with their anti-malaria campaign. In 1950, over 30 million Chinese people suffered from malaria; one percent of those died. The Chinese Government launched a major campaign in the 1950s, stressing the importance of timely treatment of the disease, but mostly emphasizing preventive measures. The colorful posters encourage citizens to eliminate the breeding grounds of mosquitoes, to keep houses and livestock clean, fill in the ditches, use bed nets, and screen doors and windows. (A special online section deals with these posters, at //www.nlm.nih.gov/exhibition/chineseantimalaria/.) By the 1990s, China had made major inroads in the fight against malaria. In 1998, there were only 32,000 malaria cases in China—a drop of 99 percent, compared to 1954.
"The use of health posters to convey medical information has dropped drastically," noted HMD's Theerman. "Television and the Internet are ubiquitous—even in third world countries-and they have replaced posters as the major way of getting health information out to various populations."
You can view a larger selection of the Chinese Health Posters at: //www.nlm.nih.gov/hmd/chineseposters/index.html
The National Library of Medicine has one of the largest collections of health posters in the world, numbering close to 12,500. View posters, prints, photographs and other medical artworks in the NLM Images from the History of Medicine database at //www.nlm.nih.gov/hmd/ihm/.