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The problem of infant mortality in Hong Kong, 1886-1937 Petrie, Ian Christopher

Abstract

In the late nineteenth century, the level of Chinese infant mortality in Hong Kong became a matter of grave concern to colonial officials. The significance accorded to the infant mortality rate reflected both contemporary Western notions about the health of the nation and good government, and long-standing associations of Chinese culture with infanticide. Initial investigations focused on deaths from tetanus neonatorum in local Western charitable institutions. Further reports in the mid-1890s blamed Chinese midwives for infant deaths, and some officials pressed for the regulation of these women. The course of the ensuing debate, which spanned a decade and a half, illustrated the politics of public health in the colony, whereby the Hong Kong government consulted with members of the Chinese elite and sought compromise, so as not to antagonise the Chinese population. The resulting Midwives Ordinance of 1910 thus did not affect Chinese midwives unless they claimed to have Western training. Rather than attempt to proscribe the native midwives, the government supported local training initiatives in the hope that Western-style birth professionals would gradually prevail.

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