Fighting for Breath: Living Morally and Dying of Cancer in a Chinese Village

Paperback: $28.00
ISBN-13: 9780824867737
Published: August 2016
Hardback: $52.00
ISBN-13: 9780824836825
Published: May 2013

Additional Information

340 pages | 10 b&w images, 1 map, 1 chart
  • About the Book
  • Numerous reports of “cancer villages” have appeared in the past decade in both Chinese and Western media, highlighting the downside of China’s economic development. Less generally known is how people experience and understand cancer in areas where there is no agreement on its cause. Who or what do they blame? How do they cope with its onset? Fighting for Breath is the first ethnography to offer a bottom-up account of how rural families strive to make sense of cancer and care for sufferers. It addresses crucial areas of concern such as health, development, morality, and social change in an effort to understand what is at stake in the contemporary Chinese countryside.

    Encounters with cancer are instances in which social and moral fault lines may become visible. Anna Lora-Wainwright combines powerful narratives and critical engagement with an array of scholarly debates in sociocultural and medical anthropology and in the anthropology of China. The result is a moving exploration of the social inequities endemic to post-1949 China and the enduring rural-urban divide that continues to challenge social justice in the People’s Republic. In-depth case studies present villagers’ “fight for breath” as both a physical and social struggle to reclaim a moral life, ensure family and neighborly support, and critique the state for its uneven welfare provision. Lora-Wainwright depicts their suffering as lived experience, but also as embedded in domestic economies and in the commodification of care that has placed the burden on families and individuals.

    Fighting for Breath will be of interest to students, teachers, and researchers in Chinese studies, sociocultural and medical anthropology, human geography, development studies, and the social study of medicine.

  • About the Author(s)
    • Anna Lora-Wainwright, Author

      Anna Lora-Wainwright is associate professor in the Human Geography of China at the University of Oxford. She is the author of Resigned Activism: Living with Pollution in Rural China (forthcoming).
  • Reviews and Endorsements
    • Fighting for Breath offers an intimate and compelling portrait of everyday suffering that Pierre Bourdieu calls ‘petite misère’. . . . Overall, this ethnography contributes to the literature on China Studies and medical anthropology by providing distinct insights into the moral economy of rural life and social suffering. Detailed ethnography communicates the overlapping layers of contentious ethical considerations that surround each decision, enriching the theoretical analysis. . . . [and] successfully represents the highly complicated and compromised environment of familial obligation within an unstable moral economy of care and culpability.
      —The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology
    • Utilizing the lens of cancer, this study is an original contribution to the body of literature addressing the impact of economic change on the lived experience of rural residents. The author finds that the new economy has not obliterated a moral sense—rather, it has increased the means available for demonstrating one’s moral sensibility (or lack thereof) and opened space for greater contestation about the appropriateness of behaviour within the family and community. . . . this book would make excellent reading for courses in medical anthropology, Chinese studies, family dynamics, and economic development.
      —China Information
    • Fighting for Breath analyzes the complex reasoning villagers devised to explain their cancers and plan treatment strategies. Lora-Wainwright succeeds best in describing the cultural and social contexts when she writes about her own experiences with the villagers over the course of several months, bringing to life a portrait of medical care in a small rural community that is as moving as it is informative.
      —Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries
    • Fighting for Breath is a well-written, ethnographically grounded, and anthropologically compelling book. It is theoretically sophisticated and clearly the work of a serious China scholar and first-rate medical anthropologist. Cancer has received much less attention in these fields than it deserves, so this volume fills an important niche.
      Arthur Kleinman, Harvard University
    • This is a powerful, timely, well-crafted ethnography that should appeal to a broad audience. What sets it apart from many China ethnographies—rural or urban—is how the exceptionally close relationships that the author formed with the village families with whom she lived and worked are placed at the center of her analysis. This ethnographic and emotional intimacy sets the stage for a number of truly brilliant insights and contributions to key scholarly debates.
      Sydney White, Temple University
  • Supporting Resources