Home Institution

Harvard University

Publication Date

Spring 2017

Program Name

China: Language, Cultures, and Ethnic Minorities


This anthropological project seeks to understand the generational and intragenerational differences in understandings, practices, and experiences of the postpartum custom of zuò yuè zi, or, as I will translate it, “doing the month.” For one month after delivering the baby, mothers are asked to remain in the home and adhere to a strict diet and schedule with the intention to, in accordance with Traditional Chinese Medicine, restore the qì that has been lost during delivery. While much literature has focused on the Traditional Chinese Medical philosophies and biomedical consequences of the practice, few have positioned the custom as an evolving and social experience. Rather than discuss the traditional medical and biomedical aspects of zuò yuè zi, this project considers “the month” as a social engagement by examining understandings, customs, and meaning-making processes from the perspective of the mother herself.

In-depth interviews were conducted with thirty women and six care-providers in Kunming, China. Participants were categorized by age and differed in demographic backgrounds to interrogate the generational and intragenerational shifts of the practice. Qualitative interviews were supplemented by participant observation to understand the evolving spaces of the custom. Findings reveal that the practice embodies deep generational and intragenerational changes and, moreover, symbolizes a change in itself. Thus, rather than “the” month, the postpartum period is concluded as representative of a diverse collection of months.


Alternative and Complementary Medicine | Asian Studies | Chinese Studies | Family, Life Course, and Society | Family Medicine | Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Maternal and Child Health | Medicine and Health | Obstetrics and Gynecology | Pediatrics | Social and Cultural Anthropology | Women's Health | Women's Studies



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