Nanyang Technological University, Singapore Email: Xiaoping.Fang.NTU@hotmail.com
In 1961 the seventh global cholera pandemic, El Tor cholera, broke out in Indonesia. Between 1962 and 1964, El Tor infected the southeast coastal areas of China. This pandemic occurred at a time of significant reorganization for both the rural medical and health systems and the people's communes following the failures of the Great Leap Forward. This paper explores how local governments led rural medical practitioners, health care workers, and villagers to participate in the campaign against the spread of El Tor cholera despite the readjustment and retrenchment of the people's communes as social, administrative, and political units. I argue that, during this period of flux, the local government strengthened its control over rural medical practitioners by institutionalizing their daily work practices and reducing their freedom of movement, whilst simultaneously providing incentives for health care workers to join the vaccination campaign. The people's communes and the household-registration system after 1961 put further restrictions on population mobility. This cellularization of village society greatly facilitated the vaccination, quarantine, and epidemic-reporting processes, and contributed to the formation of an epidemic-prevention system and eventually a response scheme for managing public health emergencies in rural China. This process reflected the complexity of the mutual interactions between the political and medical systems under socialism.