China studies scholars have long underscored the centrality of medicine and health in the making of the modern Chinese nation. Through the analytical lens of gender, in Intimate Communities Nicole Barnes reassesses this interpretation by focusing on Southwest China during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–45). Rather than foregrounding the Nationalist state's top-down measures, Barnes intends to uncover how female health workers—nurses, midwives, doctors, and volunteers—interacted with the men and women they tended. These war-catalyzed, boundary-transgressing interactions, Barnes argues, caused Chinese women to reinforce prescribed gendered roles, cementing the bonds among citizens through their physical and emotional labor.

The book presents a series of juxtaposed case studies about healthcare work and gendered hygienic modernity in wartime China. The first chapter scrutinizes male Nationalist officials’ public health undertakings in Chongqing. Barnes suggests that the state's failures to sanitize the new wartime capital primarily stemmed from the failure to address public sentiments. The...

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