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dead meat

November 20, 2010

Three weeks ago in my Gender and Chinese History course at Fudan Prof. Chen Yan lectured on the body and Chinese feminism. She brought up the work of Larissa Heinrich, who has written about the development of early medical culture (photography, art, literature etc.) in China. Prof. Heinrich has written extensively on the paintings of Lam Qua, a Guangdong painter who was commissioned to paint portraits of pre-operative patients under the care of American missionary Dr. Peter Parker.

Below are a few examples of Lam Qua’s work. I chose to focus on Lam Qua’s paintings that depict breast tumors and female bodies. These might be considered gross by some, so like…you’ve been warned?

(From Peter Parker’s Lam Qua Paintings Collection at Yale University)

Things to think about:

Missionary work is typically associated with the poor so an assumption to make is that the women (and other patients) depicted in the paintings are from poor backgrounds. While most of these paintings, like the last one above, cover up the non-tumor breast (modesty? breasts as shameful?). However, when the other breast is shown, it is painted as separate from the other, full, and healthy, meaning, there are no signs of the deformities believed to be associated with breast-binding. Did these women, due to their class and status (although these paintings were done in the 1830s when binding was spreading to lower classes,) not bind their breasts? Or do these paintings show that breast-binding didn’t result in deformities, at least not in the way that Republican period reformers believed? Was breast-binding believed to be a cause of tumors and cancer of the breast? None of the sources I have read thus far have tied the two together.

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