Why Am I Not Disabled? Making State Subjects, Making Statistics in Post-Mao China


In this article I examine how and why disability was defined and statistically quantified by China’s party-state in the late 1980s. I describe the unfolding of a particular epidemiological undertaking—China’s 1987 National Sample Survey of Disabled Persons—as well as the ways the survey was an extension of what Ian Hacking has called modernity’s “avalanche of numbers.” I argue that, to a large degree, what fueled and shaped the 1987 survey’s codification and quantification of disability was how Chinese officials were incited to shape their own identities as they negotiated an array of social, political, and ethical forces, which were at once national and transnational in orientation.