Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Society's laboratories: Biomedical nutrition and the modern Chinese body, 1910-1950
by Fu, Jia-Chen, Ph.D., Yale University, 2009, 333; 3392547
Abstract (Summary)

The central topic animating my dissertation concerns the practice and proliferation of biomedical nutritional research in China from 1910-1950. I focus on the connection between the field of nutrition (yingyangxue ) and the social production of knowledge—namely, how biomedical nutrition contributed to, as well as helped construct, specific kinds of lived bodily experiences demonstrative of Chinese modernity.

In the early twentieth century, biomedical nutrition emerged as an important branch of scientific inquiry in urban China. Although most commonly associated with food research, the field of Chinese nutrition also advanced research into the physiological processes and characteristics of the Chinese. Spurred by popular New Culture sentiments that envisioned societal advancement through the lockstep development of science and democracy, researchers sought to identify the proper metrics for evaluating the health and well-being of the Chinese populace. They endeavored to identify the physiological standards specific to the Chinese, and in so doing, struggled to reconcile the claims of biomedical universalism against the specificity deemed inherent in the Chinese body.

In developing the language and scientific criteria for normative health that would guide nutritionally-oriented social engineering projects in the 1930s and 1940s, researchers redefined the relations linking scientific research and the social sphere. Biomedical nutritional researchers articulated new sites for the production of experimental knowledge as well as reshaped the international discourse of scientific nutrition to fit a Chinese context. By focusing upon children, researchers lent credence to nationalist arguments that the strength of the nation derived from its children's bodies and helped institute physical examination techniques in institutional settings ranging from community health contests to government schools.

By focusing upon biomedical nutritional research and the Chinese community of researchers invested in the task of integrating nutritional knowledge into the fabric of the Chinese everyday, this dissertation helps fill a lacuna in the historiography of the spread of western science and the social construction of scientific knowledge. Biomedical nutrition in Republican China was neither a simple case of native acquiescence nor local resistance. Local contexts mattered, and self-definition proved a strong current in this tale of medical science in modern China.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Spence, Jonathan
Commitee:
School: Yale University
School Location: United States -- Connecticut
Source: DAI-A 71/02, Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: History, Nutrition, Modern history, Science history
Keywords: China, Experimental science, Health, Medicine, Nutrition, Republican
Publication Number: 3392547
ISBN: 9781109595758
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