Adapted from a short play written by the Shanghai Chest Hospital Amateur Art Group, The Song of Acupuncture Treatment (Wuying deng xia song yinzhen, 1974) was one of several remarkable films made about medicine and healthcare during the Cultural Revolution. It was directed by Sang Hu (1916-2004), best known for his collaborations with Eileen Chang in the late-1940s. The story is set in the Shanghai People’s Hospital in the 1970s. Dr Li Zhihua, played by actress Zhu Xijun (1938- ) of Red Detachment of Women (Hongse niangzi jun, 1961 dir. Xie Jin) fame, is a physician specialised in anaesthesiology. Dr Li comes from a proletariat background and is equally devoted to serving her patients and advancing Mao Zedong Thought. Old Yang, a steel worker, has rheumatic heart disease and has fallen seriously ill. Dr Li proposes that Old Yang must have an immediate operation, using acupuncture anaesthesia as opposed to biochemical
anaesthesia. However Dr Luo, the senior director of the Department of Surgery, rejects Dr Li’s plan. Dr Luo is concerned that, if Old Yang’s operation ends in failure, then this will irreparably tarnish the hospital’s track record in successfully administering acupuncture anaesthesia. A battle of wills thus emerges between the idealistic Dr Li and the risk-averse Dr Luo. Through this melodrama, the paper examines the negotiations of the boundaries between experts and the masses, the ethics and politics of scientific knowledge and medical practice, and propagandist representations of acupuncture anaesthesia - considered during the Cultural Revolution as the crown achievement of “Traditional Chinese Medicine” (TCM) and Maoist ideology.