Authorizing a Disability Agency in Post-Mao China: Deng Pufang's Story as Biomythography

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Essay Excerpt

One day in early 1971, officials of Beijing University (Beida) arrived at the 301st Brigade Military Hospital. They entered and approached the bedside of a former Beida graduate student, a young man who had lost the ability to walk two years earlier. The officials told the young man they wished to transfer him elsewhere to convalesce. Still the dutiful student, he consented, and in the afternoon he was packed into a jeep and moved to the Qing He Shelter (Qing He Jiuji Yuan) 45 kilometers northwest of Tiananmen Square.

Originally a nursing home for women, Qing He had become a place of last refuge for a variety of people following the Korean War. Wounded veterans without family were brought there and gradually all sorts of what Chinese then often called fei ren (social outcasts, lit., "garbage people") ended up at Qing He. These outcasts included orphans, the mentally impaired, the deaf and mute, the chronically ill, and persons with other forms of bodily difference that were viewed locally as highly delegitimizing. According to published reports, conditions at the shelter were dire at the time when the former Beida student arrived.


What I have described thus far is an episode from the authorized biography of Deng Pufang, the eldest son of Deng Xiaoping, one of China's top government leaders in the late 20th century(1). This episode of Deng Pufang's Qing He shelter experience and other episodes of his life—his imprisonment by Red Guards, his crippling, and his partial rehabilitation—are widely known across large parts of China today, primarily because the state-controlled media has promoted these accounts as the foundational story in the formation of a government disability organization, the China Disabled Persons' Federation (Zhonguo Canji Ren Lianhehui) (99; 100).

Kohrman, M. "Authorizing a Disability Agency in Post-Mao China: Deng Pufang's Story as Biomythography." Cultural Anthropology 18.1(1993): 99–131.

Editors' Footnotes

Cultural Anthropology has published a number of essays on the politics of the body. See S. Lochlann Jain’s “Cancer Butch” (2007), Diane M. Nelson’s “Stumped Identities: Body Image, Bodies Politic, and the Mujer Maya as Prosthetic” (2001), Judith Farquhar’s “Technologies of Everyday Life: The Economy of Impotence in Reform China” (1999), and Christine J. Walley’s “Searching for "Voices": Feminism, Anthropology, and the Global Debate over Female Genital Operations” (1997).

Cultural Anthropology has also published essays on narrative and history. See for example, Joseph Masco’s “"Survival is Your Business": Engineering Ruins and Affect in Nuclear America” (2008), Laura A. Lewis’ “Of Ships and Saints: History, Memory, and Place in the Making of Moreno Mexican Identity” (2001), Donald Pollock’s “Training Tales: U. S. Medical Autobiography” (1996), Jonathan Friedman’s “Myth, History, and Political Identity” (1992).

About the Author

Matthew Kohrman is assistant professor of anthropology at Stanford University.

Related Links

From the article

"China Disabled Persons' Federation Official website

Deng Pufang - Awarded United Nations Human Rights Prize, Press release by the Foreign Ministry of the PRC (12/2003)

The People's Republic of China Official web portal of the Central People's Government of the PRC

Chinese Communist Party Overview and links from China Today

Peking University (Beida) Official website

Deng Xiaoping - Reformer with an iron fist CNN In-Depth Special - Visions of China: Profile of Deng Xiaoping

World Health Organization - Disabilities Health topics webpage

Rehabilitation International Global organization partnered with the UN

The May Fourth Movement, 1919 Primary sources and discussion questions from the Columbia University, East Asian Curriculum Project

Media Links

"The Red Guards: Today, China; Tomorrow, the World" (1966) Time Magazine article published September 23, 1966

Virtual Museum of the "Cultural Revolution" Multimedia website created by China News Digest International

Interview with Deng Pufang (2003) People's Daily, staff reporter Yuan Jianda

Morning Sun Film and multimedia website about the cultural revolution

"Mao's Red Guards 40 Years Later -- Victimizers or Victims?" (12/26/06) New America Media, News Feature, Xujun Eberlein

Mao Tse-tung (Zedong) Internet Library English translations of the Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung

Asia for Educators - Columbia University Large multimedia website providing a variety of educational resources that focus on China and Jap

Organization Links

China Disabled People's Performing Art Troupe Official website

Disabled Peoples' International Asia-Pacific Region Official website

World Institute on Disability Official website

United Nations Enable UN website providing information and promoting the rights of persons with disabilites

Related Works

Anagnosi. Ann. National Past-Times: Narrative. Representation, and Power in Modern China. Durham. NC: Duke University Press, 1997.

Brownell, Susan. Training the Body for China: Sports in the Moral Order of the People's Republic. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995.

Evans, Richard. Deng Xiaoping and the Making of Modern China. London: Penguin, 1995.

Li Zhisui. The Private Life of Chairman Mao: The Memoirs of Mao's Personal Physician. New York: Random House, 1994.

Litzinger, Ralph. Other Chinas: The Yao and the Politics of National Belonging. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2000.

Qin Yan. Deng Pufang de lu (The Deng Pufang road). Taiyuan: Shuhai Chubanshe, 1992.

Stone, Emma. (2001) "Disability, Sport, and the Body in China." Sociology of Sport Journal 18(1): 51-68.


"My Dream" Trailer - China Disabled People's Performing Art Troupe

APA Interview with Tai Lihua from "My Dream"

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