Barefoot Experts

Among the many half-cocked (and often disastrous) schemes dreamed up during the Cultural Revolution, the institution of “barefoot doctors” (Chin: 赤脚医生 chijiao yisheng; Tib: ཨམ་ཆི་རྐང་རྗེན་མ་ amchi kangjema) was one much admired by Western Maoists and celebrity pilgrims to the middle kingdom as Shirley MacLaine.

Only after the PRC opened up in the late 70s did Chinese authorities admit to the system’s deep flaws and abolish it in 1981. In too many cases these “doctors”, often illiterate peasants with little or no training (and even less medical supplies and equipment), frequently inflicted more harm and suffering on their patients than they did any good. Jasper Becker, Beijing Bureau Chief for the South China Morning Post, noted that even in the 90s rural Chinese had been so turned-off by such official health-care that they were reverting to treatment by traditional “witch doctors”. …

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