Feature Christmas 2009: Afterlife

From flower graves to breast clinics

BMJ 2009; 339 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.b4932 (Published 14 December 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b4932
  1. David Robinson, honorary senior lecturer
  1. 1King’s College London, London SE1 3QD
  1. dave.robinson{at}kcl.ac.uk

    David Robinson describes how classic Chinese literature helped raise awareness of breast cancer in China

    Awareness of certain types of cancer can be boosted by media coverage of the experiences of famous personalities. In the UK uptake of mammographic screening increased after the singer Kylie Minogue’s well documented breast cancer,1 2 and there was a similar surge in screening for cervical cancer associated with the illness and death of celebrity Jade Goody.3 An analogous example occurred in China in 2007 and provides an interesting link between the classic vernacular literature of that country and present day Chinese public health campaigns.

    Ancient story

    The Dream of the Red Chamber is one of the great classics of Chinese literature.4 Also known as The Story of the Stone,5 it was written in the mid 18th century during the reign of the emperor Qianlong. The author, Cao Xueqin, was a little known poet and painter whose family had held high ranking positions in the Manchu government. He died in 1763 before the book was finished, and the completion of the work is generally ascribed to Gao E.

    The novel details the day to day …

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