Abstract

summary:

Histories of the Third Plague Pandemic, which diffused globally from China in the 1890s, have tended to focus on colonial efforts to regulate the movement of infected populations, on the state’s draconian public health measures, and on the development of novel bacteriological theories of disease causation. In contrast, this article focuses on the plague epidemic in Hong Kong and examines colonial preoccupations with Chinese “things” as sources of likely contagion. In the 1890s, laboratory science invested plague with a new identity as an object to be collected, cultivated, and depicted in journals. At the same time, in the increasingly vociferous anti-opium discourse, opium was conceived as a contagious Chinese commodity: a plague. The article argues that rethinking responses to the plague through the history of material culture can further our understanding of the political consequences of disease’s entanglement with economic and racial categories, while demonstrating the extent to which colonial agents “thought through things.”

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3176
Print ISSN
0007-5140
Pages
pp. 32-60
Launched on MUSE
2016-03-30
Open Access
No
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