The young seller sits on a low stool behind a canvas advertising his product and speaks quickly into a microphone headset. Gathered around him, a small crowd watches as he spreads a modest amount of his curative skin potion on the underarm of a willing volunteer. As the vendor dabs the liquid on the local man’s arm, he gestures toward pictures on the canvas to explain and market his medicine, a red liquid stored in small elixir bottles. Several streets away, thirty government health workers dressed in the blue and black uniforms of officialdom unfold a carnival of public health, setting up information booths, hanging posters and parking a medical van in which doctors will provide free HIV/AIDS education and consultations. Dancers of the Bai and Yi minority nationalities perform on the outdoor stage of the recently restored town theater, and after several routines yield the floor for a short children’s skit on food cleanliness performed by the government employees. The doctors and organizers of this health fair work for the Yunnan provincial government and visit one or two towns a week to educate local people on two health issues: HIV/AIDS and food and water sanitation. They, along with the snake oil salesman, have coordinated their visit with the Friday market in Sideng – a farming village of three thousand people nestled in the Shaxi valley outside Dali. The short distance separating the fast-talking vendor of the homemade snake tonic and the government-organized public health fair illustrates the curious development and paradoxical nature of Chinese rural public health. At the same time the government unveils efforts to prevent and treat modern diseases such as HIV/AIDS, rudimentary health issues like water and food quality still merit considerable attention, and snake-oil salesmen continue to capitalize on the lack of health-related knowledge to coax rural people into buying untested tonics and curatives. Paralleling the reform era revolutions witnessed in China’s economy and society, Chinese rural public health remains engaged in the initial stages of a dynamic development process combining the efforts of government agencies, foreign organizations and local people to improve the state of non-urban public health. Examining the shortcomings of rural healthcare not only offers an understanding of the poverty and development challenges facing China’s countryside, but also provides an opportunity to understand the increasingly complex involvement between non-governmental health groups and the Chinese Communist Party.
Frick, Michael, "Where the Sky is High and the Hospital is Faraway: Strategies for Rural Public Health Education in Yunnan, China" (2007). Independent Study Project (ISP) Collection. Paper 221.