90th Lecture - Domesticating the Science of Hygiene: Women’s Body and Health in Republican China
Before the twentieth century, the Chinese term weisheng, literally meaning “guarding life”, was usually associated with a variety of techniques that one deploys to improve the individual health. As the Western knowledge of modern science and medicine was introduced to China from the twentieth century onwards, weisheng gradually became an equivalent rendition for the Western notion of “hygiene” and its manifestations began to permeate almost every corner of the country. This talk intends to explore how this scientific-inflected notion of weisheng was disseminated in the domestic arena and how hygienic discourses contributed to new understandings of the female body and feminine health in Republican China. Examining a wide array of writings on women in relation to weisheng in the early Republican commercial women’s journals, my talk shows how weisheng emerged as a new doctrine to prescribe women’s role in the modern family life and how it shifted the ways in which women perceived their own bodies and physical health. I argue that these new perspectives on the female body precipitated the birth of a new gendered identity.