“Science” After Birth: A Study of Postpartum Discourse in The Ladies’ Journal, 1915–31

Cover of  The Ladies’ Journal (vol. 1 no. 9). The image is titled yao guo guan xin (caring about medicine).

by Qingyang Sonia Li

Abstract:
This paper investigates the media representations of the Chinese practice of postpartum recovery by examining The Ladies’ Journal, a popular women’s magazine active in early 20thcentury China. I argue that a dichotomous portrayal of the modern West against the obsolete Chinese was intentionally crafted within the magazine’s postpartum discourse through the homogenized representation of traditional puerperal care as unscientific, unhygienic, and inhumane. Such rhetoric based on negative self-framing and the urgent need to “Westernize” reflected the period’s tide of intellectual crusades during the New Culture Movement that called for a Chinese future built on modernized values. Linking childbirth with the survival of the Chinese race, science became the nexus between women and nationalism in the public discourse, as the female body during and after labor became the conceptual battlefield of traditionalism against modernity. It was under the banner of science that the concern for Chinese women’s wellbeing elapsed into the larger longing for a stronger Chinese state.

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Author’s bio:
Qingyang Sonia Li is a student of the M.A. program Global History at Freie Universität Berlin and Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. She holds a BA degree in Japanese studies and is currently writing her MA thesis on the memories and emotions of Japanese settler colonialism in Northeast China.

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