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“Reproduction with Chinese characteristics” : a rhetorical-cultural analysis of the practice of postpartum confinement in urban China Wang, Kejia


Despite the lack of high-quality clinical studies confirming the benefits of the practice of postpartum confinement (PC), millions of Chinese women continue to practice it every year, staying indoors, consuming specialized meals, and avoiding supposedly harmful ambient elements to preserve and improve their health. PC is often justified as a historical cultural-medical tradition that can trace its roots to ancient Confucian texts. However, since China has suppressed several health practices with similar characteristics, the historical-cultural justification alone is inadequate to explain PC’s continued popularity in China. Moreover, exploring beyond the historical-cultural justification allows for a more nuanced evaluation of Chinese women’s reproductive health discourses, as well as the current Chinese political and cultural conditions that have allowed PC practice to dominate postpartum care in China. This thesis takes up J. Blake Scott’s rhetorical-cultural approach to examine PC practices in China. To unpack the complexities of PC practice, the thesis investigates PC discourse topics that have been erased or deliberately disparaged (e.g. the option of not practicing PC during the postpartum), performs close readings of rhetorical artifacts, engages with classical Chinese rhetorical concepts, and analyzes the spatial designs of PC practice sites such as professional PC centres. The first chapter studies two power actors in PC practice: the Chinese state and the postpartum woman’s family members. The second chapter studies PC professionals: the workers of the emerging PC care-providing industry. The thesis argues that, ultimately, PC practices and its associated methods of persuasion contribute to the construction and celebration of the ideal twenty-first century urban Chinese woman: a patriotic, filial, independent, ambitious and technologically literate wife, mother and professional who conforms with cultural expectations and will work tirelessly to achieve material success and family harmony.

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