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The Use of Pain in Childbirth Recorded in Chinese Medical Works

Margaret Wee Siang Ng


In pre-modern China, midwives and pregnant mothers used pain description as a tool to gauge the progress of childbirth. This was recorded in the twelfth century medical work Shichan lun 十產論 (Ten Topics on Birth), which takes the form of a list, describing routine childbirth, birth complications and the techniques used to manage those specific complications.It was the most widely quoted and disseminated work on childbirth and birth complications in late imperial China. The description of childbirth pain in Shichan lun would shift in meaning and use by the end of the imperial period, leading to the representation of childbirth pain as inevitable, nondescript and immutable. This study examines how pain was a tool for the pregnant woman and birth attendants in Shichan lun. This reading of pain challenges our current understanding of the value and meaning of pain in childbirth physiology.

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