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Encyclopedia > Barefoot doctors

Barefoot doctors were farmers who got basic medical training and worked in rural villages in China to bring health care to areas where urban-trained doctors would not settle. The name comes from southern farmers, who would often work barefoot in the rice paddies. There were scattered experiments with this before 1965, but with Mao's famous 1965 speech about healthcare it became institutionalized, and a part of the Cultural Revolution, which also radically diminished the influence of the Weishengbu, China's health ministry, which was dominated by Western-trained doctors. Species References ITIS 41975 2002-09-22 Rice (genus Oryza) is a plant of the grass family which is a dietary staple of more than half of the worlds human population. ... 1965 was a common year starting on Friday (link goes to calendar). ...   Mao Zedong? (December 26, 1893 – September 9, 1976; Mao Tse-tung in Wade-Giles) was the chairman of the Politburo of the Communist Party of China from 1943 and the chairman of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China from 1945 until his death. ... A poster during the Cultural Revolution The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (Simplified Chinese: 无产阶级文化大革命; Traditional Chinese: 無產階級文化大革命; pinyin: ; literally Proletarian Cultural Great Revolution; often abbreviated to 文化大革命 wén huà dà gé mìng, literally Great Cultural Revolution, or simply 文革 wén gé, literally Cultural Revolution) in the Peoples Republic of China...



The barefoot doctors usually received about half a year, but sometimes as short as a few months, and as a long as one and a half year of training that was very focused on preventive medicine and curing simple ailments that were common in the specific area. An important part of the Cultural Revolution was xiafang, a movement of sending intellectuals, and in this case doctors, to serve in the countryside. They would live in an area for half a year to a year and continue the education of the barefoot doctors. About a fifth of the barefoot doctors later entered medical school.


Barefoot doctors were given a set of medicines, Western and Chinese that they would dispense. Often they grew their own herbs in the backyard. As Mao had called for, they tried to integrate both Western and Chinese medicine, like acupuncture and moxibustion. An important feature was that they were still involved in farm work, often spending as much as 50% of their time on this - this meant that the rural farmers perceived them as peers, and respected their advice more. They were integrated in a system where they could refer seriously ill people to township and county hospitals. Acupuncture chart from the Ming dynasty. ... Moxibustion (Chinese: 灸; pinyin: jǐu) is an oriental medicine therapy utilizing moxa, or mugwort herb. ...


The barefoot doctor system was abolished in 1981 with the abolishment of the commune system of agricultural cooperatives. The barefoot doctors were given the option to take a national exam, if they passed they became village doctors, if not they would be village health aides. 1981 is a common year starting on Thursday of the Gregorian calendar. ...

Historical legacy

The system of barefoot doctors was among the most important inspirations for the WHO conference in Alma Ata, Kyrgyzstan in 1978 where the Almaty Declaration was signed unanimously. This was hailed as a revolutionary breakthrough in international health ideology - it called for local communities participating in deciding health care priorities, called for an emphasis on Primary Health Care and preventative medicine, and most importantly sought to link medicine with trade, economics, industry, rural politics and other political and social areas. The WHO flag: similar to the flag of the United Nations, augmented with the symbolic staff and serpent of Asklepios, Greek god of medicine and healing. ... Almaty (Алматы; formerly known as Alma-Ata, also Verny, Vyernyi (Верный) in Imperial Russia) is a city in Kazakhstan, with a population of 1,168,000. ... 1978 was a common year starting on Sunday (the link is to a full 1978 calendar). ...

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