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5 Transforming Eisei in Meiji Japan When writing the draft of the National Medical Code [in 1875], I considered using words that were direct translations from original [Western] words—like kenkô [for “health”] or hoken [for “hygiene”]. But these words seemed too blunt and plain, and so I tried to think of other more appropriate terms. Then I recalled the word eisei [weisheng] from the “Kosôso hen” [Gengsang Chu pian] of Sôshi [Zhuangzi]. Of course the meaning of this term in the original text was slightly different [from Western concepts], but the characters appeared elegant and sounded tasteful, and so I chose them to signify the government administration of health protection. nagayo sensai, Pine-Fragrance Memoirs In 1872,the Japanese government sent a thirty-four-year-old doctor named Nagayo Sensai (1838–1902) to serve as medical observer on an official embassy to the United States and Europe. Upon his return to Tokyo, he struggled to find a way to translate what he had witnessed abroad. In Europe and America, he perceived that state attention to health had become an essential cornerstone of governance. To varying degrees, each nation supported a web of engineering, education, policing, and laboratories that linked the health of the individual to the health of the nation. Each language had its own word to describe the system: in French, santé; sanitary in English; in German, Gesundheitspflege, Sanitäts-wesen, or öffentliche Hygiene. Nagayo hoped to find a Japanese word—conveyed in Chinese characters—that could adequately translate these meanings of expansive government provisioning for, and monitoring of, the health of its people. As he recalled in his memoirs a quarter of a century later, the word eisei (weisheng) from the Chinese Daoist classic Sôshi (Zhuangzi) struck him as a particularly appropriate translation.Eisei’s characters for “guard” (ei) and “life” (sei) would give the new transplanted health system an “an elegant and tasteful” linguistic link to the past—albeit a link that reached back to the ancient past of Japan’s neighbor, China. Frederico Masini, in his meticulous scholarship on the formation of the modern Chinese lexicon, proposed that a radically new meaning for weisheng was “invented in Japan and imported to China at the end of the nineteenth century.”1 In the second half of the nineteenth century, Japanese scholars used Chinese characters to create a new terminology for words they 136 encountered in European texts: constitution, republic, science, rights, society . Masini suggests that even though eisei was based on an existing Chinese term, the modern Chinese word weisheng should be considered as a pure neologism, a new word borrowed from Japanese since “the meaning that the word acquired in Japan was so different from its original meaning [to protect life].”2 Indeed, although John Fryer and others began to alter the content of weisheng in late-nineteenth-century Chinese treaty ports,the eisei that appears in writings of early Meiji medical elites is of a different order. For Nagayo Sensai and other builders of the Meiji state, eisei was a key link in the creation of a wealthy and powerful nation. Through the proper application of eisei in governance, an enlightened elite could lead the people to healthier lives. And where people’s habits fell short of a hygienic ideal, the state had to intervene to impose health. Eisei linked the central government, the scientist, the physician, the police, the military, and the people in a joint effort to protect the national body. Through their linguistic imagination, weisheng had now become “hygienic modernity.” Hygienic modernity entered China in the twentieth century, but it was first translated and packaged as eisei in Meiji Japan. New scholarship examining translation as a process in Chinese has considered the “original” meanings of modern words such as rights, liberty, machine, and society, all of which were formed from classical sources. In tracing the development of these terms, scholars have hinted that these new words carried resonances from the past that significantly shaped their reception. Further investigation has highlighted how different individuals have deployed these words in different contexts, and how alternate translations competed for primacy.3 The role of Japanese translators as creator and mediator in this process is acknowledged, but seldom deeply pursued in scholarship on China. One can not consider the emergence of a word as powerful and complex as weisheng without considering the transformations it underwent in Japan. This is particularly important when one considers that “hygienic modernity ” became a...


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