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Introduction The goal of this book is to place meanings of health and disease at the center of Chinese experiences of modernity. It does so by focusing on the multiple manifestations across time of a single Chinese word: weisheng. Today this term is variously rendered into English as “hygiene,” “sanitary,” “health,” or “public health.” Before the nineteenth century, weisheng was associated with a variety of regimens of diet, meditation, and self-medication that were practiced by the individual in order to guard fragile internal vitalities. With the arrival of armed imperialism, some of the most fundamental debates about how China and the Chinese could achieve a modern existence began to coalesce strongly around this word. Its meaning shifted away from Chinese cosmology and moved to encompass state power, scienti fic standards of progress,the cleanliness of bodies,and the fitness of races. The persistent association of weisheng with questions of China’s place in the modern world has inspired me to translate it as “hygienic modernity.” This study illuminates how weisheng transformed a city,and how it became a central term through which Chinese elites “named the conditions of their existence” under foreign imperialism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.1 In today’s People’s Republic of China (PRC) it is impossible not to notice weisheng. The word is a pervasive adjective/noun that fails to be contained by any one-to-one correspondence with the word hygiene. One may encounter weisheng chopsticks (made of cheap wood, wrapped in paper, and designed for one use only), weisheng paper (toilet paper), and weisheng spheres, or mothballs. One can “do weisheng” (daosao weisheng or gao weisheng), which means to accomplish a thorough cleaning at home or in the workplace. The bathrooms in private homes and toilets in public spaces are referred to as weisheng rooms (weisheng jian). The national govern1 ment bureau that oversees the medical profession, hospitals, epidemic control , and pharmaceutical standards is called the Ministry of Weisheng. Municipalities and counties have their own Bureau of Weisheng responsible for the public health in each locale. Although in many occurrences weisheng can (and should) be translated simply as “hygiene/hygienic” or “sanitation/ sanitary,” its pervasive presence in Chinese society indicates a significance beyond the mere concern for cleanliness that is conveyed by these terms in contemporary American English. It is perhaps its frequent use in conjunction with “the people,” cities, and even the nation that weisheng reveals itself as a central part of contemporary China’s struggle to achieve what seems to be an ever-elusive state of modernity.Frequent municipal campaigns urge the public to “pay attention to weisheng” (jiang weisheng), reminding people that in a modern society, people wash their hands, keep their dwellings clean, and most important, refrain from spitting in public. Slogans painted on walls and buildings urge residents to create “civilized and hygienic cities” (wenming weisheng chengshi ) as part of the policy of reforming the country and opening up to the outside world (gaige kaifang). In conversations with Chinese of a certain educational background, one might encounter an admiration for Singapore because it is weisheng and a general sense of dissatisfaction with China because it is not. And although most mass mobilization campaigns have dissipated in the post-Deng era,the government still regularly coordinates nationwide Patriotic Hygiene Campaigns (Aiguo weisheng yundong) as a method of improving China’s health, appearance, and national status. In these manifestations, weisheng is a central element in the definition of modernity, not only for the individual but also for the built environment of cities and even for the imagined totality of the nation. The meanings of this “hygiene” go far beyond anything ever associated with the word before the late nineteenth century. This study seeks to understand the process through which these novel meanings became associated with the term weisheng. Understanding this process may shed new light on the underlying nature of social and intellectual change in urban China in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. John Fitzgerald has described how national elites in the twentieth century undertook a project of “awakening” China from a condition of national subjugation , a condition that elites perceived as stemming from weaknesses inherent in the Chinese themselves.2 This study suggests that much of this awakening project was centered on the term weisheng. In the first decades of the twentieth century, Chinese elites accepted a medicalized view of their country’s problems and embraced a medicalized solution for the deficien2 / Introduction cies...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780520930605
Related ISBN
9780520240018
MARC Record
OCLC
58728552
Pages
415
Launched on MUSE
2014-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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