China’s Health Care During Mao’s Time

February 27, 2010

After the Communists won China in 1949, health care improved. Prior to that, life expectancy for the Chinese people was thirty-five years. By Mao’s death in 1976, average life expectancy had increased by twenty years.

There were three basic areas of medical care. Free substandard medical care was provided to the proletarian working class, meaning workers and peasants.

Mao started a program called ‘bare-foot doctors’. This program was the backbone of rural health care in China. This meant anyone could become a doctor.

  • Video: Documentary of Bare-Foot Doctors in China

Mao told the people that if you wanted to be a doctor, you didn’t need to go to medical school. All you had to do was have the motivation to provide medical care to needy people and the government would support you and provide limited training.

The second class of medical care went to people like teachers, clerks and secretaries, ‘friends’ of the working class, the proletariat. The only difference was that these ‘friends’ had to pay to get medical treatment. It was possible to face financial ruin from one hospital stay.

The third class were termed enemies of the proletariat like former shop-owners, landlords and denounced intellectuals like liberal arts professors. These people were denied treatment altogether.

Learn about China’s Urban Rural Divide


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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