Intended for healthcare professionals

Student Life

All change for China

BMJ 2003; 326 doi: (Published 01 June 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;326:0306197
  1. Harriet Clompus, fourth year medical student1
  1. 1Newcastle University

Harriet Clompus went to Beijing and saw the effects the drastically changing society is having on health

Showing such eagerness to get inside a hospital while on my hard earned summer break may seem to border on the pathological. But I had the chance, I had the language, and so I donned a beautifully starched and pressed white coat and went on the rounds of the 700 bed general hospital, the Railway Hospital, in Beijing, in the People's Republic of China.


The way the healthcare system is run in China is completely different to what I'm used to in the United Kingdom, and it takes a little while to get your head round it. Surprisingly, in the largest socialist country in the world, healthcare is anything but free.

Until the late 1980s most Chinese people belonged to “work units,” which provided not just a job but welfare from the cradle to the grave, including housing, education, and health care.

Now the unit system is breaking down as the economy becomes more market based. This is good in many ways as work units were a method of social control, interfering in all areas of life, even deciding when couples could have a child. People can find jobs on the free market, are paid a market salary, and are free to live …

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