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China and Inner Asia
In Session: Rethinking Disease in Asia after COVID-19
2: China and the Cholera Pandemic: Restructuring the Society under Mao
Monday, March 22, 2021
10:00am – 11:30am EDT
Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
This paper analyzes the dynamics between disease and social restructuring during the global cholera pandemic in Mao’s China between the two most radical political events of the 1960s: the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. In 1961, El Tor cholera epidemic broke out on Sulawesi Island, Indonesia, becoming the seventh global cholera pandemic in recorded history. In China, El Tor cholera first broke out in Guangdong Province in June 1961. Following a large-scale but clandestine government campaign, the pandemic was contained in southeast coastal China by 1965. The 1961-1965 pandemic broke out and spread through southeast coastal China in a particular sociopolitical context when the Communist government committed to social restructuring to overcome the political crisis and reconsolidate the legitimacy of its rule. This sociopolitical change was intensified and complicated by the geopolitical roles of China within the international community at the peak of the Cold War. This research argues the global cholera pandemic was more than just a health incident in China—it was also, more importantly, a significant social and political exercise.