Thesis ID: CBB135616130

More-Than-People’s Communes: Veterinary Workers, Nonhuman Animals, and One Health in Mao-Era China (2022)


Seow, Victor Kian Giap (Advisor)
Yi, Jongsik Christian (Author)

Seow, Victor Kian Giap
Harvard University
Publication date: 2022
Language: English

Publication Date: 2022
Physical Details: 247

Long before COVID-19, global health experts and citizens perceived China as a past and future epicenter of pandemic disease. The high density of its human and nonhuman populations, the prevalence of wet markets, and the relentless destruction of its ecology have been linked to the authoritarianism of its government and the apparent political submissiveness of its people. This dissertation historicizes this perception by examining the communal veterinary system during China’s Maoist period (1949–1976). I show the bottom-up efforts to preserve the vitality of humans, domestic animals, and the environment through the work and knowledge of local “people’s communes.” At the center of these initiatives were large numbers of local veterinary workers. Veterinarians, animal disease prevention workers, animal caretakers, and breeders undergirded the economic, intellectual, and moral order in which farm animals and veterinary expertise were regarded as common goods. I argue that prior to the post-1978 capitalist reforms in China, there were “more-than-people’s communes,” or places where diverse humans cared for, healed, and exploited nonhuman beings to weather the revolution’s radicalism and unpredictability. This dissertation complicates the understandings of rural China, Maoist mass science, and human-animal relations. First and foremost, I ask a historiographical question: Despite famine, exploitation, and violence in rural China, how did local communities persevere and survive? Engaging with historians and social scientists who have studied the subsistence ethics, agency, and forms of resistance of local individuals and communities, I claim that to fully appreciate such communal capacity for subsistence and well-being, we must recognize the contribution made by nonhuman animals. Local veterinary workers were at the forefront of enabling and sustaining the animal contributions to communal survival. They were by no means elite experts, but rather products of the ideal of mass science, or an anti-technocratic, popular democratic, and even “decolonial” vision of science. While bringing the cases of veterinary workers to the scholarly conversation about mass science, this dissertation reshapes the discussion about mass science by insisting that the ideal within grassroots veterinary spheres was enacted through not only human action but also by animal initiative. Foregrounding human-animal relations within more-than people’s communes, this dissertation does not insist that “animal agency” was equal to or even more significant than that of local state cadres, veterinarians, or peasants. Instead, it juxtaposes human and nonhuman actors whenever possible. In so doing, I do not erase the presence of diverse farm animals in the communes and I seek to denaturalize anthropocentric and eugenic aspects of the communal life.

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Authors & Contributors
Wang, Wenji
Jiang, Lijing
Bian, He
Bunn, Stephanie J.
Cameron, Noel
Cruickshank, Paul Joseph
History of Psychiatry
East Asian Science, Technology and Society: An International Journal
Centaurus: International Magazine of the History of Mathematics, Science, and Technology
Chinese Journal for the History of Science and Technology
Current Anthropology
Food, Culture and Society
Harvard University
University of Michigan
Columbia University Press
Duke University Press
Stanford University Press
University of Minnesota Press
Medicine and politics
Health care
Public health
Medicine and society
Mao, Zedong
Cameron, Noel
Time Periods
20th century, late
21st century
20th century
20th century, early
Qing dynasty (China, 1644-1912)
United States
Soviet Union
South Africa
Shanghai (China)

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