In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Disability Studies

  • Introduction
  • Overviews
  • Statistics and Yearbooks
  • Journals and Magazines
  • The Body in China
  • Disability before 1949
  • Disability under Mao
  • Postreform Discourses
  • Eugenics and Suzhi
  • Legal Frameworks
  • Rights and Advocacy
  • Civil Society and the Third Sector
  • Welfare and Social Security
  • Employment
  • Social Inclusion
  • Mental Health

Chinese Studies Disability Studies
Sarah Dauncey
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 June 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920082-0132


According to the Second National Sample Survey of Disabilities (Di er ci quanguo canjiren chouyang diaocha 第二次全国残疾人抽样调查) of 2006, China had an estimated 82.96 million disabled people, although it has been widely suggested that this is an underestimation of the true scale of disability at the time. Despite this, the amount of academic attention paid to disability has been limited. This perhaps should come as no surprise; even in countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States, interest was initially similarly narrow. The early focus on the fields of rehabilitation, welfare, and education in the United Kingdom and United States reflected the prevailing “medical model,” which saw disability as an individual problem that needed to be cured or rehabilitated. The gradual move toward the “social model,” where disability is understood to be created by societal barriers, and the more recent appearance of the “rights model,” which places disability within the realm of human rights discourses, have provided fertile ground for academic enquiry. The result of all this is the emergence of a new multidisciplinary field: disability studies. Such a pattern is also reflected in the development of academic interest in China but with substantially compressed timelines. We now have a growing body of work undertaken by scholars outside and inside the People’s Republic of China (PRC) mainland on a wide range of issues from public policy to literary representation and everything in between. Much of the work produced in China has been directly sponsored by (or at the very least strongly informed by) the China Disabled Person’s Federation (Zhongguo canjiren lianhehui 中国残疾人联合会, CDPF), the state organization responsible since 1988 for overseeing all aspects of disability-related work. For this reason, there are often different approaches employed by Chinese and non-Chinese academics, the latter of whom are more likely to draw upon the understandings developed within disability studies mentioned earlier, although this divergence is narrowing. Given the multidisciplinary nature of the field, this bibliography for the most part adopts a thematic approach rather than having entries organized along individual impairment lines, and only work relating to the PRC mainland is considered here (although it is acknowledged that there is a growing body of work on Taiwan and Hong Kong that deserves inclusion in future).


With the recent advent of academic interest, there are just a handful of studies offering sufficient overview of the subject. Those highlighted here provide solid starting points for most research. Lu and Inamori 1996 offers the most comprehensive historical overview, but its nonchronological organization and lack of theoretical engagement leaves its analysis wanting. Stone 1998, by contrast, draws on disability studies theories to examine Chinese discourses of disability over time. Kohrman 2005 is the most focused chronologically and offers invaluable contextualization for contemporary understandings of disability. For a succinct analysis of the changing language of disability, see Stone 1999.

  • Kohrman, Matthew. Bodies of Difference: Experiences of Disability and Institutional Advocacy in the Making of Modern China. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005.

    DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520226449.001.0001

    Uses anthropological approach to provide in-depth examination of how and why the CDPF came into being in the 1980s and the way in which its emergence and development has contributed to the instantiation of disability as a category of “otherness.” Analysis intersects with broader issues such as health, welfare, advocacy, gender, marriage, and employment.

  • Lu Deyang 陆德阳, and Inamori Nobuaki稻森信照. Zhongguo canjiren shi (中国残疾人史). Shanghai: Xuelin chubanshe, 1996.

    Exhaustive archival work here has produced almost 450 pages of historical sources that can be drawn upon for further research. Material is organized semithematically, which enables the authors to identify, for example, different historical “types” or “models” of disabled people, as well as marriage patterns and educational opportunities.

  • Stone, Emma Victoria. “Reforming Disability in China.” PhD diss., University of Leeds, 1998.

    Most comprehensive English-language analysis to date. Looks at the development of disability discourse in China from earlier times onward. Chapters on imperial cosmologies and ideologies, domestic debates and Western influences at the turn of the 20th century, development under Mao, reform-era changes, plus more recent political and welfare initiatives.

  • Stone, Emma. “Modern Slogan, Ancient Script: Impairment and Disability in the Chinese Language.” In Disability Discourse. Edited by Mairian Corker and Sally French, 136–147. Buckingham, UK: Open University Press, 1999.

    Useful overview of the terms and phrases used to describe disability in China and how these have changed over time. A good starting point for any study.

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