Mao′s Bestiary

Medicinal Animals and Modern China

Mao′s Bestiary

Experimental Futures

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Book Pages: 288 Illustrations: 9 illustrations Published: May 2021

Author: Liz P. Y. Chee

Anthropology > Medical Anthropology, Asian Studies > East Asia, Science and Technology Studies

Controversy over the medicinal uses of wild animals in China has erupted around the ethics and efficacy of animal-based drugs, the devastating effect of animal farming on wildlife conservation, and the propensity of these practices to foster zoonotic diseases. In Mao's Bestiary, Liz P. Y. Chee traces the history of the use of medicinal animals in modern China. While animal parts and tissue have been used in Chinese medicine for centuries, Chee demonstrates that the early Communist state expanded and systematized their production and use to compensate for drug shortages, generate foreign investment in high-end animal medicines, and facilitate an ideological shift toward legitimating folk medicines. Among other topics, Chee investigates the craze for chicken blood therapy during the Cultural Revolution, the origins of deer antler farming under Mao and bear bile farming under Deng, and the crucial influence of the Soviet Union and North Korea on Chinese zootherapies. In the process, Chee shows Chinese medicine to be a realm of change rather than a timeless tradition, a hopeful conclusion given current efforts to reform its use of animals.


Mao's Bestiary is a brilliant revisionary cultural history, and a pioneering work on animals. Liz P. Y. Chee has written a book that is more than just a historical study; it contributes to current political debates within China as well as globally. This will be a wonderful book to teach, not only in classes on contemporary China, but also on ethnography, history, social theory, environment and sustainability, and science studies.” — Michael M. J. Fischer, author of Anthropology in the Meantime: Experimental Ethnography, Theory, and Method for the Twenty-First Cent

“What a daring endeavor indeed to tackle the question that many have asked with urgency even before Covid-19: Why do Chinese people use parts of wild animals for health benefits? Uncovering the little-known creation of an animal drug industry in Mao’s China, which involved surprising actors from around the globe, Liz P. Y. Chee’s groundbreaking book exemplifies how history at its best can address our deep concern about animals and the troubled world we share with them.” — Sean Hsiang-lin Lei, author of Neither Donkey nor Horse: Medicine in the Struggle over China’s Modernity


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Liz P. Y. Chee is Research Fellow at the Asia Research Institute and Lecturer at Tembusu College, both at the National University of Singapore.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  ix
Introduction  1
1. "Abandon Chinese Medicine, Retain Chinese Drugs": Creating a State Pharmaceutical Sector  27
2. "To Learn from the Soviet Union": Russian Influence on Chinese Pharmaceuticals  53
3. The Great Leap Forward and the Rise of Medicinal Animal Farming  71
4. The Quest for Innovation: Folk Remedies and Animal Therapies  99
5. "Economic Animals": Deng's Reforms and the Rise of Bear Farming  139
Conclusion  161
Notes  173
Glossary  225
Bibliography  229
Index  265
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-1-4780-1404-1 / Cloth ISBN: 978-1-4780-1190-3