AAS Annual Meeting

Interarea/Border-Crossing Session 391

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Session 391: Twentieth-Century Chinese Science and Medicine in a Global Context

Organizer: Wayne Soon, Earlham College, USA

Chair: Benjamin Elman, Princeton University, USA

Discussant: Angela Ki Che Leung, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

Modernization theory posited that science and medicine move unproblematically from West to East to combat backwardness. Historians are left with the task of assigning levels of heroism in such transmission. Which actors transferred science faithfully? Which actors allowed social factors and personal interests to affect this transmission? 

This panel complicates this picture by showing how the agents of science in China emerged not as superheroes or derided villains, but as multi-dimensional global agents who refracted and rethought Western ideas of science and medicine through their travels, letters, and speeches in transnational spaces. They inspired comparative philosophy, faced opposition from May Fourth intellectuals, believed in contentious scientific views, and promoted cross-cultural collaborations. Science in China was thus global, translated, and contentious. 
David Luesink’s paper shows this global yet contentious nature of Chinese science through his study of the President of Peking Medical School’s celebration of Japanese anatomical-racial science in Manchuria, Korea, and Japan. Liu Wennan seeks to show how longstanding moral ideas were fed into western imported science of cigarettes in the Late Qing's anti cigarettes campaign, thus showing that the notion of "public science" was highly pluralistic. Wayne Soon’s paper shows the importance of the Overseas Chinese in bringing western science and public health to China. However, they faced criticisms from local Chinese who challenged the relevancy of their education and experiences in the United Kingdom and the Straits Settlements. Finally, Tan Yingjia reveals that the genealogy of a differentiated “intuitive” East and “scientific” West originated in the comparative philosophy of science that emerged strongly in the twentieth-century United States and China.

Tang Erhe’s “Diary of an Eastern Journey”: Anatomy in Japan and its colonies, c. 1917
David N Luesink, University of Pittsburgh, USA

A small body of scholarship demonstrates that the anatomical gaze is at the heart of East Asian (scientific) modernity as it was institutionalized in Meiji Japan and early Republican China. One way to explore this unrecognized phenomenon is to follow Dr. Tang Erhe, arguably the most powerful Chinese physician of the early twentieth-century, on a fact-finding educational mission in 1917 through Japanese Manchuria, colonial Korea and Japan. If his report included details on elementary and middle schools, his primary concern was with the conditions of basic teaching and advanced research in anatomy. This paper will examine the content and context of the travelogue in its two published versions, first in a medical journal, and then with many detailed and disturbing details omitted, in the Dongfang zazhi (Eastern Miscellany). Educated in Japan and Germany, Tang was the key actor in the institutionalization of anatomical medicine in China in the first decade of the Republic of China, establishing medical schools, a professional medical association, petitioning for an anatomy law ending the long prohibition of human dissection in China, and standardizing and approving Chinese terminology for anatomy. Tang was a key figure in the New Culture and May Fourth Movements before moving into a more exclusively political career in the 1920s and 1930s. Tang’s travelogue is a detailed and significant artifact that lays bare the role of anatomy and racial science in Japanese and Chinese colonial modernity.

Science and Myth: the Western Medical Discourse and Knowledge in the Anti-Cigarette Campaigns in Late Qing, 1899-1911
Wennan Liu, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, China

Western medical discourse was brought into China to challenge the traditional Chinese medical understanding of tobacco use as beneficial to one’s health in the anti-cigarette campaigns in late Qing. My research will show that the western medical science itself at that time was based on both laboratory experiment and moral speculation. This mixture of science and myth was brought into China to prove the harm of cigarettes by anti-cigarette advocates, including American Christian missionaries and Chinese educated elites. When they delivered the western medical discourse to the Chinese commoners, they used “western science” as a self-evident truth but added even more unscientific interpretation and speculation in it, so that the less-educated people could understand and accept the “scientific” discourse more easily. In this paper, I will trace the route of the “scientific” knowledge about cigarette smoking from the West to China, and investigate how the knowledge was translated, reinterpreted, and modified to persuade the Chinese audience from smoking cigarettes. Through this research, I will address to the broader question how western science was used to conceptualize Chinese people’s daily behavior, cigarette smoking in this case, and how the concept of “scientific knowledge” was understood and perceived during this process of culture exchange.

Science, Medicine, and Confucianism in the Making of China and Southeast Asia: Lim Boon Keng, Wu Lien-teh, and the Overseas Chinese, 1890-1937
Wayne Soon, Earlham College, USA

The Overseas Chinese have been typified as businessmen or coolies who were more interested in their lives in the host societies in Southeast Asia rather than their homeland in China. I look at alternatives to the dominant narrative by showing the involvements of the Overseas Chinese to their homeland, in particular their scientific and medical influences. My paper examines the ways in which the Chinese diasporic elites such as Lim Boon Keng and Wu Lien-teh in British Malaya introduced new ideas of science, medicine and hygiene they learned from their education and experiences in the United Kingdom and the British colonies to China through books, primers, lectures, and journals. They held key positions in the government, universities, and non-governmental organizations in China and Southeast Asia. An amalgamated form of "Confucianism" was often deployed strategically for them to participate in the homelands. They sought to define diseases, rewrite medical histories, and introduce new forms of military medicine. Opposition to their involvements in the homeland came mainly from scholars schooled in the humanities, who did not like their scientific utopianism and their claims to "Chineseness." Others ignored their attempts at medical reforms, preferring to continue with longstanding method in dealing with illnesses. Ultimately, this paper seeks to reveal the potential at reinterpreting Republican Chinese history from the diaspora's lens.

The Chinese Ford Mechanic and the Intuitive East: May Fourth Intellectuals, American Philosophers and the Comparative Philosophy of Science, 1919-1959
Ying Jia Tan, Wesleyan University, USA

The link between a Chinese Ford mechanic and the philosophy of science is not immediately obvious. For Yale professor of philosophy and law Filmer S.C. Northrop (1893-1992) and American-educated Chancellor of Peking University Jiang Menglin (1886-1964), the failure of a Chinese mechanic to grasp the elementary scientific concept of friction, exemplified the clash between “intuitive East” and “scientific West.” This paper explores the origins of Northrop’s “intuitive East,” an influential concept presented in his philosophy bestseller The Meeting of East and West (MacMillan, 1946). Drawing on F.S.C. Northrop papers at Manuscripts and Archives in the Yale University Library, this paper examines Northrop’s interaction with Western-educated Chinese intellectuals, such as Hu Shi, Jiang Menglin and Feng Youlan. It argues that Northrop’s conception of the “intuitive east” emerged from May Fourth intellectuals’ lamentations about “the lack of modern science in China.” This paper also examines the history of an institution—the East-West Philosophers’ Conference that first met at the University of Hawaii in 1939. During the Cold War, this trans-pacific network of philosophers advocated the harmonization of the genius of Asian philosophy with science and technology from Europe and America to create a universal worldview to counteract the spread of Communist ideology. The activities of the East-West Philosophers’ Conference between 1939 and 1959 provide important insights on how cold war politics shaped discourses in the philosophy of science.