Changes in Disease Patterns in Rural China, With an Explanatory Framework

By / 12-28-2021 /

Social Sciences in China, 2021

Vol. 42, No. 3, 2021


Changes in Disease Patterns in Rural China, With an Explanatory Framework



Yu Chengpu


Data on the disease pattern in rural China over the past hundred years show that chronic diseases have now replaced infectious diseases as the major health problems plaguing rural residents. From the perspective of life-course research, taken together with medical anthropology's emphasis on bio-sociocultural integrity, we can divide chronic diseases into two: the chronic diseases of excessive depletion and the chronic diseases of excessive intake. The former are mainly the result of societal experiences engraved on the body; chronic diseases represented by arthritis and intervertebral disc disease are the marks left on the human body by the hard times of the early years. The latter is the result of the transformation of working life in which the abundance of material resources and the reduction of physical exertion occur simultaneously; the rapid arrival of the good times mean that bodies that have long suffered from hunger and exhaustion find it hard to adapt. Hypertension and diabetes are the physical manifestations of this distress. Fundamentally, chronic diseases falling into the over-intake category may appear to originate from the sweetness of current life, but they are in fact the physical reproduction of earlier experiences. Our village case study fleshes out this explanatory framework, allowing us to see the complex relationship between social institutions, livelihood patterns, cultural mindsets, bodily habits, and disease.


Keywords: disease pattern, life course, excessive depletion, excessive intake, bio- sociocultural mismatch