A step back in time to study healthcare

Yafu Zhu '16

Yafu Zhu '16

Major: East Asian studies

Awards: Barbara Yen Sun Prize

Honors Thesis: Rural Health Care in Yunnan Province, Pu'er Prefecture, Mojiang Hani Autonomous County

When I decided to write my senior thesis on Chinese rural healthcare, I didn’t know it would lead me to four months of fieldwork in a remote county in Yunnan Province, Western China. Aside from everything I learned through interviewing patients and doctors for my thesis, the experience of living among those rural Chinese was life-changing.

I discovered a completely different way of life and standard of living than the one I was used to in the big cities. Transportation, sanitation, communication—everything that makes a society function—was at a level that made me feel I had stepped back decades in time.

If I hadn’t gone there myself and talked to the people—many of whom were members of the Hani minority group—I would never have been able to understand how the rural healthcare system of village clinics, town hospitals, and county hospitals served the healthcare needs of this widely spread and impoverished population. I was able to gain the trust of many of the people I interviewed, who told me things they might not have shared with anyone official.

I even worked in a noodle shop and slept on a bed with no mattress, in a room with no light at all! I plan to continue my fieldwork in other parts of rural China, and I’m looking forward to even more surprising and educational experiences.