Organized Session

Science in East Asia between Global, Regional, and Local Perspectives: Power, Colonialism and Knowledge Production, 19th - 21st century

Organizer

Noa Nahmias

York University

Chair

Grace Shen

Fordham University

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Session Abstract

Global histories of science encourage us to think beyond the nation and examine the circulation of knowledge across regions, a process which was inextricably linked with colonialism. This panel asks how a regional perspective contributes to our understanding of what global histories of science can be. In East Asia between the 19th and 21st centuries, discourses on science and technology were embroiled in imperial decline, imperial ascent, national resistance, and postcolonial reckoning. At the same time, different actors in the region - scientists, popularizers, publics, imperial regimes, and imperial subjects - staked their claim in what was perceived as a global arena of modern science. The diverse experiences of inter-regional and global imperialism in China, Japan, and Korea move us to explore the possibilities, tensions, and limitations of categories such as global and local: to what degree are these binary opposites? how were they constructed alongside each other?

The panel consists of four case studies which demonstrate how science in colonial contexts served in local, regional, and global discourses. Wallner's paper explores how artifacts such as maps and nautical narratives figured with pre-existing knowledge practices in late Qing claims of sovereignty; Kawaue analyzes the Fifth National Industrial Exposition in Osaka in 1903, considering how anthropological discourses affected Japanese colonial expansion and shaped nationalism; Nahmias's presentation asks how science popularizers in Republican China constructed an image of science as universal in the face of increasing nationalism; Park examines how biotechnology in Korea at the turn of the twenty-first-century emerged at the intersection of its gendered, postcolonial history and economic globalization. Together, these papers offer a multifaceted re-examination of the dependency and divergences between the categories of local and global.

Presenter 1

Identifying the Modern Nation: Late-Qing Mapping Across Science and Culture, 1887-1912

Rachel Wallner

Northwestern University

Abstract

In the spring of 1909, an admiral named Li Zhun 李准 (1871-1936) , together with more than a dozen freshly trained surveyors and surveying students, famously embarked on an expedition into distant waters south of China. Their stops included the Paracel Islands (西沙群岛), an island group of strategic and economic potential, and one of increasing international interest. After three weeks of "many on-the-spot, detailed measurements," Li's three ships returned to Chinese shores with twenty-seven pictorial maps and a narrative nautical chart. Armed with these new artifacts of spatial legibility, Li concluded that foreigners, given their activity in the Paracels, had "infringed upon the sovereign rights of China."

This paper explores the larger context of Li's historical moment in terms of a shifting late-Qing surveying and mapping regime. Following well established work that understands science in China "on their own terms," or terms accorded with Qing culture and state imperatives, it introduces how changes to official mapping in China aligned with culture and shifted in response to pragmatic needs. It examines official calls for improved, standardized, and more precise maps of lands and waters important to Qing defense-calls which began some twenty years prior to Li's voyage-and their construction together with pre-existing Chinese knowledge and practices. I argue that Li Zhun's claim to the Paracels in 1909 builds upon an epistemological foundation that was, at once, foreign and Chinese. It's a foundation that underscores Chinese claims to the ocean world today.

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Presenter 2

Japanese Anthropology and its Colonial Enterprise: A Case Study of the 1903 Human Pavilion

Midori Kawaue

Princeton University

Abstract

In 1903, the Fifth National Industrial Exposition in Osaka held the first anthropological display in Japan that featured living 'exotic' humans. Anthropologist Tsuboi Shogoro oversaw this exhibit and he decided to incorporate people who were Japanese colonial subjects like the Okinawans, the Ainu, and the Taiwanese. The scientific nature and western origin of anthropology lent legitimacy to the exhibit. The 1903 Human Pavilion is a good case study to examine how professional anthropologists transmitted knowledge about the Ainu to the Japanese public and utilized the field of anthropology to encourage colonial expansion and scientific nationalism. Did staging living Ainu people as if they were zoo animals formulate a public consciousness that these people are "savages"? How did this exhibition enforce nationalistic beliefs and serve the interests of imperial Japan? Through investigating this exposition, I will also explore how anthropological discourses affected the state of Japanese colonial expansion and how western anthropological practices influenced Japanese settler colonialism. There were clear parallels in how scholars in Japan and the west mistreated the indigenous populations to preserve data of a vanishing population. Anthropologists in Japan and the west contributed to the enforcement of settler colonialism through plundering and creating racial theories from indigenous remains. These parallels occurred, perhaps, because western anthropologists highly influenced the practice of Japanese anthropology. Situating the 1903 Human Pavilion in the context of global indigenous studies could help us understand why caricatures of indigenous groups as primitive peoples still exist today.

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Presenter 3

The Universe of Science at Your Doorstep: Popular Science between National and Global in China, 1933-1937

Noa Nahmias

York University

Abstract

In August 1933, a group of scientists, teachers, and writers based in Shanghai published the first issue of Science Pictorial (Kexue huabao), a Chinese-language magazine aimed at a general readership. The mission of the journal was to "scientize China." "Scientizing" was a widely used catch phrase at the time, signaling a patriotic attempt to bring foreign inventions, technologies, and expertise, into China. But it also implied a process of localization, in which scientific knowledge was made available, legible, and relevant to its audience. On the pages of Science Pictorial, photographs of futuristic towers and German airplanes were presented alongside reports on domestic field research and local plants. How did the journal's writers and editors interpret making China scientific?

This paper argues that there were two kinds of narratives which co-existed in Science Pictorial. I employ print culture methodologies to analyze not only the textual narratives that appeared in the journal, but also its use of visuals, its layout and formatting, and its circulation and readership. A close reading of these components reveals an editorial agenda that saw science as universal, but at the same time attempted to configure a Chinese science. These narratives were engendered by a global history of knowledge circulating and shaped by the national concerns of Chinese science popularizers. By placing these narratives side by side, this paper examines the confluence of global processes and local interests, and asks in what ways they contradicted each other, and in what ways they were co-constructive.

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Presenter 4

Postcolonial Science in Korea: Gendered Stem Cells and Technoscientific Sovereignty

Haesoo Park

Institute of Science and Technology for Humanity, Nanyang Technological University

Abstract

This paper investigates the global and local discourses of biology and politics around biotechnological research in Korea at the turn of the twenty-first century. Korea entered the new era with a growing contempt for American neocolonialism arising from resentment towards the harsh conditions imposed by the IMF in return for its assistance to solve the 1997 financial crisis. The nation was also enmeshed within the burgeoning global landscape of stem cell research. It was within these trends that veterinary scientist Hwang Woo Suk published a series of articles claiming he had successfully used cloning techniques to produce human embryonic stem cells. His work, however, soon became embroiled in a global ethics scandal and accusations of scientific fraud. Situating this paper between 1990 and 2006, I analyze the accounts of Hwang's work in dozens of scientific journals, major Korean newspaper articles, and popular American magazine reports. I argue that Hwang's biotechnological stem cell research was celebrated as key to Korea's promised - but never quite achieved - postcolonial sovereignty. Historians have analyzed the Hwang case in terms of nationalism or globalization. This research takes such studies further by applying a postcolonial feminist approach that situates Korean biotechnology within its gendered and postcolonial history. I demonstrate the relationship between science and power in postcolonial states such as Korea, revealing how science and technology operate differently in regions outside the West. It contributes to the efforts in the history of science that work to decenter narratives privileging the West.

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