IVF the Chinese Way: Zhang Lizhu and Post-Mao Human In Vitro Fertilization Research
Volume 9, Number 1, 2015 pp. 23-45
In 1988, the first human baby conceived through in vitro fertilization (IVF) technology in mainland China was born at the Peking Medical College Third Hospital in Beijing. The Chinese media soon celebrated the IVF achievement for its scientific modernity, as well as for its indigenous design, which was deemed suitable for Chinese infertile women. By tracing the project director Zhang Lizhu’s professional, social, and technological experiences as the IVF project proceeded at the Third Hospital, I examine the sociopolitical justifications of the project and the technological strategies of the final IVF design. Sociopolitically, state funding for IVF in the mid-1980s, a time of governmental promulgation of the one-child policy, was predicated upon melding eugenic motives into the IVF program as a rationalization for fertility treatment. Technologically, what was claimed to be “indigenous” IVF design was actually a technical shortcut to quick success contrived to bypass challenging protocols established in developed countries. The case reveals that the IVF project and its representations in the reform era, though predominantly characterized by a sociotechnical pragmatism, still carried a hint of Maoist romanticism that celebrated worker innovation and indigenous self-reliance. Zhang’s IVF program thus offered a pivotal transitional process through which the sociotechnical imaginaries of biomedical reproductive modernity began to form in 1980s China.