The Physical Examination and the Modern Self: Learning Health in Republican China

“The Physical Examination and the Modern Self: Learning Health in Republican China” by Professor Jia-chen Fu, Dept. of Russian and East Asian Languages and Cultures

Time: Nov. 11, 2016; 12:30pm - 1:30pm

Location: Modern Languages 201, 532 Kilgo Circle, Emory U., Atlanta, GA 30322

This presentation explores the historical emergence of the physical examination as a child-focused, public health intervention in Republican China. It argues that the increasing priority placed on the physical examination as an essential methodology for assessing the health of the child was closely linked to the emergence of the modern school as a key locus for the carrying out of public health initiatives. By tracing the various iterations of the physical examination implemented at missionary schools, conducted at local, municipal, and provincial child health competitions, and debated in the pages of popular magazines and newspapers, this presentation seeks to enrich current understandings of the links between health, politics, and modernization in China. The physical examination was understood as a tool for surveying and managing child bodies. It could be used to separate the racially fit from the racially unfit. It could identify the physical threats to the religious health of students at mission schools. Its emphasis on the
systematic and careful collection of quantitative data made it possible to speak both authoritatively and objectively about Chinese health, nutrition, and standing in a comparative sense. Finally, the physical examination was itself a form of pedagogy. Examining children was not simply an accessory to the inculcation of good health habits and strong health consciousness; it was integral to this process by making children perform health through their participation.

About the speaker

Jia-Chen “Wendy” Fu is an Assistant Professor at the Department of  Russian and East Asian Languages and Cultures at Emory University. After
receiving her M.Phil and Ph.D. in History from Yale University, Wendy was a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Chinese Studies at the University of California at Berkeley (2009-2010) and then Assistant Professor in the History Department of Case Western Reserve University (Cleveland, OH). Her primary research focuses on how new scientific disciplines and practices shaped conceptions of the Chinese physical body and diet. Her book, The Other Milk: Soy, Science, and Sovereignty in Modern China, explores the curious paths through the conception of the Chinese diet as a deficient one led to the reinterpretation, rediscovery, and reassignment of social and scientific meanings of a local foodstuff, the soybean, in twentieth century China and will be published by the University of Washington Press. Her teaching interests include modern Chinese history, science and society in modern China, history of the body,  food and culture, and East Asian martial arts.