In the early 1980’s, nutritional biochemist T. Colin Campbell, PhD of Cornell University, in partnership with researchers at Oxford University and the Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine, embarked upon one of the most comprehensive nutritional studies ever undertaken known as the China Project. China at that time presented researchers with a unique opportunity. The Chinese population tended to live in the same area all their lives and to consume the same diets unique to each region. Their diets (low in fat and high in dietary fiber and plant material) also were in stark contrast to the rich diets of the Western countries. The truly plant-based nature of the rural Chinese diet gave researchers a chance to compare plant-based diets with animal-based diets.
Sixty five counties in rural China were selected for the study and dietary, lifestyle and disease characteristics were studied. Within each of the 65 counties, 2 villages were selected and 50 families in each were randomly chosen. One adult from each household (half men and half women), 6,500 for the entire survey, participated. Blood, urine and food samples were obtained for later analysis, while questionnaire and 3-day diet information was recorded. The data was published in the following monograph: Chen, J., Campbell, T.C., Li, J., Peto, R. Diet, Lifestyle and Mortality in China. A Study of the Characteristics of 65 Chinese Counties. A joint publication of: Oxford University Press, Cornell University Press and The People’s Medical Publishing House, 1990.
The same counties and individuals surveyed in 1983-84 were re-surveyed in 1989-90, with the addition of 20 new counties in mainland China and Taiwan, and 20 additional families per county, for a total of 10,200 adults and their families. Socioeconomic information was also collected for this second survey. The data was published in the following monograph: Chen, J., Peto, R. Pan, W., Liu, B., Campbell, T.C. Mortality, Biochemistry, Diet and Lifestyle in Rural China. Geographic study of 69 counties in Mainland China and 16 areas in Taiwan. Oxford University Press, 2006.
Download the project data
The text and data from 1989-1990 survey has been digitized and provided to the public with thanks to the Clinical Trial Service Unit and Epidemiological Studies Unit at the University of Oxford in England.
The US National Cancer Institute (of NIH), along with the American Institute for Cancer Research (Washington, DC), provided the initial funds. The Imperial Cancer Research Fund in England also provided significant support for the Oxford University activity. However, the majority of the support for this study came from the Chinese people and their government. This support was ‘in kind’, resulting in the provision of approximately 800+ years of professional and technical labor.
The China Project Documentary
In the early 1990s as the first results from the China Project were being published, a Cornell documentary crew began months of filming in Mongolian villages, Shanghai communes, Beijing hospitals, and research facilities at Oxford and Cornell Universities to create a video that would capture the scope and significance of the study. The film is narrated by Mary McDonnell (Dances With Wolves, Battlestar Galactica, Grand Canyon).
The China Study
In 2005, T. Colin Campbell, PhD and his son Thomas M. Campbell, MD, shared the China Project findings along with additional research with the world in The China Study. Their best selling book examines the connection between nutrition and heart disease, diabetes, and cancer and the source of nutritional confusion produced by powerful lobbies, government entities, and opportunistic scientists. The China Study is hailed as one of the most important books about diet and health ever written.