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 of weisheng in Tianjin provides a window to China’s conception of modernity and its emphasis of modernization projects; it is the implication of hygienic modernity in weisheng that marks China’s deficiency, internalized by the intellectuals in the pre-war era and used against imperialism after the establishment of the PRC. In other words, weisheng itself embodies China’s complex modern history represented in the semi-colonial condition of Tianjin as a treaty port. This paper aims to discuss China’s semicoloniality through Rogaski’s concept of hygienic modernity, or weisheng and compare it with the previous week’s reading, i.e. Rhode Murphey’s and Bryna Goodman’s notions of Chinese semicolonialism.
The common theme of the three authors is the nature of colonial modernity in China, as is the authors’ of last week. And again, there exists a split in their views on the same question. Murphey holds that foreign influence did not penetrate the basis of Chinese culture because it could not, to s...
... middle of paper ...
...s seen in its fullest as hypercolonialism.
As Rogaski contends, after more than thirty years’ intervention by the foreign powers, especially Japan during the occupation from 1937 to 1945, in public hygiene in Tianjin specifically, and China generally, hygiene had been rooted in China and weisheng remained the discourse of China’s deficiency before or after the liberation of China in 1949. Communist China’s call for weisheng in the form of patriotism was a way “to modernize and rationalize urban society-- to make it more transparent and more permeable and to bring individuals into direct contact with the state”; weisheng, a product of imperialism, became internalized by the Communist state. Yet what is not so dissimilar with the weisheng in pre-war years is the gap between the ideal and imagination of hygienic modernity and its actual practice by the population.
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