Hygienic Modernism Case Study

1031 Words5 Pages
Hygienic Modernity and China’s Semicolonialism In China today, slogans on public hygiene are everywhere, restaurants, subways, road sides, to name just a few. Literally, it is one of the priorities of the Chinese government to promote public hygiene and to encourage people to behave civilized in public. Yet here comes the question: why is personal hygiene associated with public in China, and why does it have to do with being civilized? Ruth Rogaski’s Hygienic Modernity provides perceptive answers to these questions. It traces the history of the word weisheng, hygiene in Chinese, through the late-Qing Tianjin, its Republican period, Japanese occupation, and until the first few years of New China. Rogaski argues that the changing meaning…show more content…
The key is weisheng, or hygienic modernity. It is after the occupation of the foreign powers in 1900 that the meaning of weisheng in China was transformed into the synonym of hygienic modernity that associates individual hygiene with the health of the public and the nation. And it is through how weisheng was managed, appropriated, rejected, absorbed, or compromised that the unruly semicolonialism of Tianjin became hypercolonial, representing a “fragmented, shifting, and sometimes paradoxical experience” (192). Chinese elites suffered from anxiety to distinguish themselves from the bu(no) weisheng, the discourse they internalized as the mark of China’s deficiency vis-à-vis the West/Japan, such as their lower-class counterparts who could not afford the modern water and sewage system in the British settlement (204-5). Facing the rupture of weisheng brought by the imperialist, the native Chinese way in managing public hygiene such as the Dark Drifters, on the other hand, symbolized the constant rejection on the Chinese side to be absorbed into the practice of hygienic modernity. The imperial powers themselves were not a unified group, either. Japan, as the mediator of modernity, self- proclaimed as the leader in Asia to bring other neighboring countries to modernization, itself stood on an ambiguous ground in relation to other Western powers. Japanese residents in Tianjin were urged to distinguish themselves from the native Chinese through the discourse of hygienic modernity. This shows the “complex matrix of relationships among competing and cooperating colonizers” in the treaty port (183). Weisheng, or hygienic modernity, was created by and brought to China by imperialism, “but then it worked against the creation of a comprehensive public administration that could make a difference to the health of the city” because of hypercolonialism of the treaty port (223). The complex

    More about Hygienic Modernism Case Study

      Open Document