AAS Annual Meeting

Interarea/Border-Crossing Session 347

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Session 347: Disease as Text: Living with and Managing Disease in East Asia

Organizer: Sonja M. Kim, State University of New York, Binghamton, USA

Discussants: Yun-jae Park, Yonsei University, South Korea; Sonja M. Kim, State University of New York, Binghamton, USA

Diseases offer interesting lenses in the study of history for they can be read not only as somatic or corporeal experiences, but also as cultural artifacts of the past. As medical knowledge does not exist independently of the environment in which it is produced and used, particular ideas of disease causation and prevention, and their related healing and managing practices fit within their specific contexts. The papers in this panel place disease—malaria, venereal disease, smallpox, cholera—at the fore, reading how literary representations of, attempts to categorize, and efforts to contain disease provide contemporary audiences insight into how the human body was lived and experienced in Korea, Japan, and China. How societies managed diseases, in particular, reveal processes that produce/reproduce cultural, social, and power relations. This panel, in short, looks at the interactions between disease and East Asian societies in both the pre-modern and modern contexts, to address how diseased bodies were perceived, lived, and managed differently in particular historical moments.

Malaria in Pre-modern Korea
In-sok Yeo, Yonsei University, South Korea

Malaria was one of the most prevalent diseases in pre-modern Korea. The first record of malaria in Korea dates back to the 12th century. Although it is an infectious disease, its clinical and social manifestation is different from other infectious diseases. Unlike other epidemics, which frequently endangered a local community or even the country, malaria was not as fatal. However, its presence and impact was enduring. As an endemic disease, it was part of everyday life in pre-modern Korean society. Despite its prevalence in everyday life, the prognosis of the disease was not bad. Malaria was then commonly understood to be self-recovering. One of the main reasons for this notion is that the causal agent of malaria in Korea is Plasmodium vivax, a mild form of malaria. It was not a fatal disease, but a debilitating one. Numerous mentions of malaria were made in the diaries and essays of the intellectuals in pre-modern Korea, and even poems titled malaria were composed. Most of the writers reported their debility after suffering from malaria. Malaria was also a very common excuse for a government official to resign from his post. A history of epidemics such as pest or cholera is characterized by a violent interaction between a disease and a society. However, a history of malaria in pre-modern Korea illustrates a different kind of interaction, i.e., stabilized and enduring one, between a disease and a society.

Enumerating “Prostitute Disease” in Modern Japan (1850-1912)
Ann Marie L. Davis, Connecticut College, USA

The rise of “Western” bio-medical practices in mid- to late-nineteenth century Japan exacerbated representations of pleasure workers as a major source of venereal disease. Specifically, numerical reports including nosologies and statistical charts, two medical technologies introduced by British forces in Japan, represented “the prostitute” as a contaminating force that necessitated state surveillance and control. Considering such quantitative data as tools of/for representation and state management, I explore statistical charts, the authorities that manipulated them, and the sex workers whom they defined as co-constitutive entities, each embedded in economies of state- and empire-building. My presentation introduces several data sets generated by different groups for different audiences in different contexts. Together, they represented new meanings for “the prostitute” as well as for those who surveilled them. While pleasure workers in Japan were already linked with illness as early as the Tokugawa period (1600-1868), imported nosological practices of tallying and analyzing medical statistics created ever-more complex meanings. Above all, the numerical tables identified “the prostitute” as a major contaminating force that, by infecting soldiers and average citizens alike, obstructed the vitality of the empire. Meanwhile, as the figures on “prostitute disease” proliferated, the agents responsible for them – doctors, diplomats, journalists and hygiene experts – evolved as oppositional referents; as modern, educated and powerful men, they conveyed messages of stability and healthfulness for the greater national body.

The Health Administration of Beijing Municipality and Disinfection Under Japanese Occupation (1937-1945)
Kyu-hwan Sihn, Yonsei University, South Korea

This paper examines preventive measures against acute contagious diseases undertaken by Beijing Municipality in China under Japanese occupation from 1937-45. As Japan established its puppet government in Beijing during the Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945), it intensified public health work through the health bureau of Beijing municipality, which succeeded the Beiping municipality of the prior Nanjing decade. Under Japanese control, compulsory vaccination was carried out with quarantine in Beijing. As the case of smallpox vaccination demonstrates, it was in the Health Districts of the Health Station that the omnipresence of vaccination could be practiced in various sites. Other vaccinations such as dysentery, diphtheria, and cholera were executed by Beijing municipality. These measures seemed relatively successful in preventing major epidemics, but was challenged by the 1943 cholera epidemic. This stimulated civic involvement, autonomous of the Japanese authorities, in disinfection programs to combat cholera. Some active organizations include the rickshaw group and Xinminhui, which earlier organized support for the puppet regime. The Beijing Municipality practiced multiple forms of control patterns such as compulsory vaccination, isolation, mobilization, police questioning, detention, and monetary penalty. Its efforts concentrated on disinfection and cleanliness. Thus, despite the challenges posed by the cholera epidemic to the public health administration, the compulsory mobilization and measures against epidemics and contagious diseases overall improved health conditions in Beijing.