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Faculty Research Colloquium

“The Tyranny of the Bottle: Vitasoy and the Cultural Politics of Packaging” by Professor Chia-chen Fu, Russian and East Asian Languages and Cultures, Emory University

Time: Oct. 13, 12:00pm - 1:00pm

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

Free and open to the public

By 1963, Vitasoy (Weita nai), which specialized in the commercial production of soybean milk, had become the largest single seller in the local Hong Kong soft drink market. When the company began its operations two decades previously, such success had seemed impossible as Vitasoy struggled to articulate a clear identity for its commercial soybean milk. Was it an alternative for dairy milk? Was it a breakfast food? This paper argues that a closer examination of how Vitasoy advertised and packaged its soybean milk over the decades affords us insight into how new technologies reshaped popular understandings of taste and the meaning of soybean milk. From a dairy milk alternative to a soft drink beverage—or the milk bottle to the tetrapak—Vitasoy’s experimentation with different forms of packaging refracted cultural concerns of identity and redefined the sensual experiences, especially around food, that undergirded such identities.

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.