Xisai Song is an assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Texas at Austin, USA. Her research focuses on medical anthropology, health disparities, and chronic illness.
The biomedical treatments for chronic illness usually feature long-term management plans that entail regular clinical visits, long-term medication, and keeping a healthy lifestyle.
This talk presents an ethnographic account that follows a group of young and middle-aged former migrant workers in China who suffer from chronic kidney disease (CKD). These patients criticize and avoid biomedical treatments, calling CKD as a “rich people’s disease.” Contrary to the common assumption that associates chronic illness with societal affluence, wealth, and modernization, these migrant workers believe that only rich people can benefit from chronic illness treatments in biomedicine. Considering the biomedical treatment plan for CKD unhelpful, they instead turn to alternative therapeutic options such as traditional Chinese medicine and stem cell therapy. This study traces these patients’ social and therapeutic trajectories and embeds their healing experiences into their life histories and lived realities. It offers new insights into how structural marginalization shapes therapeutic choices and healing experiences of chronic illness.