restricted access Prescribing Colonization: The Role of Medical Practices and Policies in Japan-Ruled Taiwan, 1895–1945 (review)
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Reviewed by
Michael Shiyung Liu. Prescribing Colonization: The Role of Medical Practices and Policies in Japan-Ruled Taiwan, 1895–1945. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Association for Asian Studies, 2009. x + 286 pp. Ill. $25.00 (978-0924304576).

As historians of medicine attempt to write the global history of colonial medicine, the non-Western Japanese empire and Japanese colonial medicine beg serious [End Page 478] attention. Japan, as the only Asian imperial power of modern times, was keen on developing Western medicine and the biomedical public health system as a key aspect of its colonial governance in the East Asian and South Asian colonial territories from the late nineteenth century to the Japanese surrender to the Allied forces in 1945. Japan’s medical modernity, we must note, was not a belated copy of Western medical modernity, but a coeval project. Thus, the specific formations of Japanese colonial medicine demand critical attention.

At this juncture, Michael Shiyung Liu’s Prescribing Colonization is a welcome contribution. By focusing on Japan’s first colony, Taiwan (1895–1945), Liu painstakingly—and skillfully—brings together multilingual archival sources and secondary literature on Japanese colonial medicine in Japan’s model colony. In doing so, he presents a fine-grained history that reveals novel formations of medical policies, laboratories, health campaigns, and clinical practices, as well as the movements of Japanese medical agents and health officials that intricately connected Japan’s first colony to the metropole.

According to Liu, the case of Japanese colonial medicine in Taiwan goes beyond what Daniel Headrick’s The Tools of Empire emphasized as the central concern of colonial medicine: ensuring the health of (European) colonizers. From experimenting with the idea of German Staatmedizin (state medicine) to establishing police hygiene to producing the films of health campaigns (e.g., Malaria no boatsu [The Prevention and Eradication of Malaria, 1939]), prominent medical-minded officials and governor-generals in Taiwan, such as Gotō Sinpei (1857–1929), indeed sought to turn the “filthy” and “uncivilized” island itself into a model sanitary zone, to control epidemics (e.g., small pox) and endemic diseases (e.g., malaria), as well as to lower the mortality rate of the Taiwanese population. Liu convincingly demonstrates the effects of biomedicine-inflected Japanese imperial policies, showing, for example, that within just fifty-five years (1920–75), life expectancy in Taiwan increased by 41.5 years, whereas a similar jump in life expectancy (40.5 years) in Britain required almost two hundred years, from 1786 to 1976 (p. 158). The improvement to sanitary and health conditions in Taiwan also led to the separation between laboratory medicine (dominated by Japanese physicians and researchers) and clinical practice geared toward the native populations, thereby creating room for the increase of Taiwanese medical practitioners and private dispensaries. These colonial initiatives were never dissociated from the vision of Japan’s colonial project, which was aptly epitomized in 1907 by the Japanese historian of the Meiji period (1868–1912), Takekoshi Yosaburo, as the effort to extend “civilization” to the island in a way that was synonymous with the medical colonization of Taiwan (p. 131). In a no less unambiguous way, Liu demonstrates how Japanese medical endeavors in the model colony later led to the imperial conquest of South Asia. Taiwan became the laboratory for imperial Japan’s development of nanbo igaku (southern medicine) with a scheme to control tropical diseases in the vast territories of South Asia, when Japan’s southward imperial expansion (nanshin) was well under way. Nanbo igaku, Liu argues, was no different from Western-defined tropical medicine, but the Japanese made every effort to negate its origins in order to claim the authenticity of its own medicine. [End Page 479]

Not all of these histories of Japanese colonial medicine were accomplished by means of well-calculated official maneuvers of the Japanese imperial and colonial governments, however. Prescribing Colonization makes a compelling case for the need to examine how central personal ties and ambitions as well as interpersonal frictions were to the making of Japan’s colonial medicine. The famous bacteriologist Kitasato Shibasaburo’s ambitions to promote Japanese modern medicine in Japan’s colonies, for instance, inspired his pupils to cultivate laboratory medicine in Korea and...


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