Frank Dikotter's work analyzes the relationship between medicine and ideas about reproduction in China, from the late Ming to the present. Drawing on sources ranging from treatises on reproductive disorders to flyers advertising freak shows, he shows how the notion of reproduction as a potentially dangerous phenomenon - one that has to be strictly regulated to safeguard the nation's eugenic future - permeated Chinese society. The process was accelerated by the appropriation of genetics and embryology in the late 19th century and by the publication of works of "popular medicine". These historical developments engendered the view that individuals - who were always represented in relation to the larger patrilineal collectivity - should be accountable not only for their own reproductive behaviour, but also for the health of future offspring. Such sentiments still hold sway today. Since Deng Xiaoping's accession to power, human genetics has come to occupy centre stage, as a growing number of socially undesirable traits, including criminality, are attributed to "bad" genes, which the state seeks to regulate in order to restrict such "inferior births".
The final part of the book looks at the social, political and cultural context of the controversial eugenics law passed in China in 1995, which potentially endows local cadres and medical authorities with the power of life and death. The ethical and political implications of this legislation are closely scrutinized.
"Monstrous bodies" - medical theories of foetal health in Late Imperial China; "defective genes" - the regulation of reproduction in Republican China; "inferior births" - eugenics in the People's Republic of China.