Fighting for Breath: Living Morally and Dying of Cancer in a Chinese Village
343pp. May 2013
Fighting for Breath: Living Morally and Dying of Cancer in a Chinese Village
Author: Lora-Wainwright, Anna;
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.

12 illus.
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
Author: Lora-Wainwright, Anna;
Anna Lora-Wainwright is university lecturer in the Human Geography of China at the University of Oxford.
Read the Introduction (PDF).
Guide to Key Places and People 

Part 1: Foundations 
Chapter 1: Cancer and Contending Forms of Morality 
Chapter 2: The Evolving Moral World of Langzhong 

Part 2: Making Sense of Cancer 
Chapter 3: Water, Hard Work, and Farm Chemicals: The Moral Economy of Cancer 
Chapter 4: Gendered Hardship, Emotions, and the Ambiguity of Blame 
Chapter 5: Xiguan, Consumption, and Shifting Cancer Etiologies 

Part 3: Strategies of Care and Mourning 
Chapter 6: Performing Closeness, Negotiating Family Relations, and the Cost of Cancer 
Chapter 7: Perceived Efficacy, Social Identities, and the Rejection of Cancer Surgery 
Chapter 8: Family Relations and Contested Religious Moralities 

Appendix 1: Questionnaire (English Translation) 
Appendix 2: List of Pesticides Used in Langzhong and Their Health Effects