Blood Relations: A Historical Perspective on HIV/AIDS in China

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Title: Blood Relations: A Historical Perspective on HIV/AIDS in China
Author: Kohanek, Annie
Advisor: Smith, Paul Jacov; Hayton, Darin
Department: Haverford College. Dept. of History
Type: Thesis (B.A.)
Issue Date: 2011
Abstract: A thesis on HIV/AIDS is not a thesis about a disease, but about a culture. A thesis on HIV/AIDS is a study on a country's unique cultural and historic lens which shapes policies and opinions about a virus. While different nations react toward the spread of HIV/AIDS differently, all reactions reflect greater historical and cultural forces. This thesis aims to step back and put a historical perspective on a modern phenomenon; to put a historical perspective on both the spread of and reaction to the virus. In China, the discussion on HIV/AIDS reflected larger political and cultural tensions about how China saw itself in relation to the international community. During Mao's era, discussions focused on political differences: on capitalism versus communism, on imperialists versus revolutionaries. With Reform and Opening of the 1980s, by opening its borders, the country feared economic modernization would mean westernization and the dissolution of Chinese identity. Focus on political and economic difference shifted to focus on moral difference. HIV/AIDS became part of that larger historical tension. The issue of HIV/AIDS became an issue of morality, about western versus eastern culture. Thus rather than focus on prevention and education within the country, leaders would point to the strength of Chinese culture and morality as factors fighting against perceived social ills that spread HIV. So when villages of rural farmers in central China began to die of AIDS in the late 1990s due to contracting HIV through blood selling, all of the negative aspects of China economic reforms that had been pushed aside came to a head. Rural poverty, the dismantling of the health care system, political corruption and ethnic tensions came bursting through. This thesis will explore the complicated language of HIV/AIDS, how it affects social policy, and will contextualize China's response to the disease in a broader historical understanding.
Subject: AIDS (Disease) -- China
Subject: AIDS (Disease) -- Government policy -- China
Subject: AIDS (Disease) -- Social aspects -- China
Subject: China -- Social conditions
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Kohanek, Annie. "Blood Relations: A Historical Perspective on HIV/AIDS in China". 2011. Available electronically from

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