chapter  6
17 Pages

The work of nursing in China’s hospitals


This chapter considers how nurses, as professionals and female citizens in urban China, negotiate the imperatives of health policies and laws within the spaces of the hospital. I first present a detailed examination of how one nurse maneuvered around laws prohibiting the sale and promotion of infant formula in a Beijing hospital in 1994 to assist her patients according to her own understanding of their needs. This case illustrates how micro-level factors, such as local, pragmatic decisions about the uses of institutionalized spaces, and the individual experiences embedded in a life history, affect one nurse’s professional practices. Nurse Bai’s memories of the positive impact of socialist ideologies conflict with the realities of the post-Maoist market economy, and the strategies she adopts to adjust her personal perceptions of her patients’ health requirements with new laws and policies provide insight into how legal and policy implementation are negotiated at the level of the individual professional. I then examine more recent changes in laws related to nursing and medical liability to further illustrate that hospital emergency and operating rooms form new spaces where micro-level practices, such as record keeping and sterilization procedures, are shaping contemporary ideals of the nursing profession. My aim is to show how the contradictions and tensions brought about by economic reform and China’s increasingly internationalized economy are managed, resisted, and even transformed by China’s professionals in their use and control of spaces associated with the practice of their profession. Time as it is measured in individual life histories of professionals and legal and policy changes since 1949 illustrates the dynamic nature of professions like nursing in China and provides understanding that these processes are not “objectively given relations which look the same from every angle of vision” (see Appadurai 1990: 296).