Cover of Infectious Change by Katherine A. Mason
Infectious Change
Reinventing Chinese Public Health After an Epidemic
Katherine A. Mason


May 2016
272 pages.
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Cloth ISBN: 9780804794435
Paper ISBN: 9780804798921

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In February 2003, a Chinese physician crossed the border between mainland China and Hong Kong, spreading Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)—a novel flu-like virus—to over a dozen international hotel guests. SARS went on to kill about 800 people and sicken 8,000 worldwide. By July 2003 the disease had disappeared, but it left an indelible change on public health in China. The Chinese public health system, once famous for its grassroots, low-technology approach, was transformed into a globally-oriented, research-based, scientific endeavor.

In Infectious Change, Katherine A. Mason investigates local Chinese public health institutions in Southeastern China, examining how the outbreak of SARS re-imagined public health as a professionalized, biomedicalized, and technological machine—one that frequently failed to serve the Chinese people. Mason recounts the rapid transformation as young, highly-trained biomedical scientists flooded into local public health institutions, replacing bureaucratic government inspectors who had dominated the field for decades. Infectious Change grapples with how public health in China was reinvented into a prestigious profession in which global impact and recognition were paramount—and service to vulnerable local communities was secondary.

About the author

Katherine A. Mason is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Brown University.

"In this defining ethnography of China's public health system and its complex relation to epidemics, Katherine Mason brilliantly describes health professionals, their struggles to be effective and ethical, the barriers they face, and how they animate the Chinese public health system as a lived reality. Infectious Change is an impressive contribution to both China studies and to medical anthropology!"

—Arthur Kleinman, Director, Harvard Asia Center

"Meticulously crafted, Infectious Change draws readers into the world of Chinese public health after SARS. Mason documents fundamentally different approaches to epidemic control among global, state, and local practitioners, including management of migratory populations, data collection, and ethics, arguing that global directives often stymie local efforts. This book elucidates why epidemic prevention everywhere must draw on local knowledge and practices."

—Margaret Lock, author of The Alzheimer Conundrum