Medical accidents have become an unexpected source of political friction in reform-era China, leading in certain, well-publicized cases to mass riots and violent attacks against hospital staff. This article situates the problem of the medical accident alongside the wider politicization of risk in postsocialist China, arguing that the single act of medical negligence must be understood as symptomatic of the general decline in health insurance coverage during the past three decades. The article considers two institutional responses to the problem of the medical accidents that have been deployed under the aegis of Hu Jintao's “Harmonious Society”: on the one hand, the government has sought to juridify risks by introducing a comprehensive statute on tort law, and on the other, the unproductive risks engendered by the inadequacies of health insurance have been transformed into potentially productive risks through the introduction of multinational clinical trials into the large urban hospitals. The article concludes with a reflection on the political limits of risk mediation in the Harmonious Society.

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