Author Archive

Anna Lora-Wainwright

Dr. Anna Lora-Wainwright is University Lecturer in the Human Geography of China at the University of Oxford. She holds a BA and MA from the School of Oriental and African Studies and a PhD in Anthropology from the University of Oxford. Her book Fighting for Breath: Living Morally and Dying of Cancer in a Chinese Village is published by Hawaii University Press.

It is well-known that one of the key fault lines of inequality in China is the rural-urban divide. Rural China has been the engine of much development through industrialisation; through farming to provide food for China’s cities; and through land grabs which open new areas for investment and government revenue. Yet the benefits of such development are distributed unfairly. Many rural residents either do not benefit directly from development or do so at great cost to their health. These inequalities are compounded by the continued disparity in welfare provision between rural and urban areas. Welfare provision in China’s countryside has doubtlessly improved after the introduction of rural healthcare cooperatives in recent years, but it remains limited. Illness is as an extreme embodiment of routinized and recurrent forms of social suffering and exclusion from various forms of care and welfare. As I document in my book, Fighting for Breath, a population’s attempt to secure care is both a physical and a social struggle to maintain integrity and to ensure family and neighbourly support. Over the past decade, I have spent almost two years living in rural China and researching attitudes to development,illness, pollution and morality. This has brought me to witness first-hand some of the often unthinkable suffering rural villagers face (environmental and otherwise), as well as poignant moments of human dignity, kindness and resilience. Many of these scenes will stay with me forever. A woman in her fifties salvaging roof tiles before she demolished by hand her own newly built home to make space for a road. A seventy-year-old woman refusing treatment for glaucoma — because ‘one eye is enough’ — whilst opting to save the money for her grandson’s education. My host tending to her dying father (suffering from oesophagus cancer) as he spat blood into newspaper scraps. Sixty-year-old Uncle Wang committing suicide by drinking pesticide in the final stages of stomach cancer. His wife, a few years later, scavenging plastic bottles in the township to boost the family’s income and support her granddaughter’s education. Villagers growing crops in fields they know to be severely polluted. An anti-incinerator activist lying in bed surrounded by flies next to his sick wife after suffering a stroke.