The afterlife of “doing medicine”: Birth planning, chronic illness, and regeneration among the Lisu on the China–Myanmar border


Between the late 1970s and 1990s, many indigenous Lisu people in the Nu River Valley, an Eastern Himalayan region of China bordering Myanmar and Tibet, underwent what they referred to as “doing medicine”—abortions, vasectomies, and tubal ligations—as part of China’s Birth Planning Policy. Lisu, who endured these procedures, struggle with strength loss, nervousness, and pain. Government discourses diminish the Lisu experience, arguing that the policy was lenient toward them. Lisu themselves are reticent to share their experiences but have devised new practices to care for those affected. Drawing on long-term ethnographic fieldwork, I argue that these chronic illnesses and accompanying care practices constitute everyday forms of remembering through which Lisu give shape to their experiences of cultural loss under Chinese colonization while generating new social relationships. This analysis sheds light on Indigenous experiences of birth planning in China with broader implications for understanding the bureaucratic violence of medicine.