Organized Panel Session
THIS SESSION HAS A ROOM CHANGE AND HAS BEEN MOVED FROM DENVER TO GOVERNOR'S SQUARE 9.
This panel presents three instances where governments engaged with their constituents on questions of public health in early twentieth-century Asia. The domain of public health has long been recognized as a key arena of contestation between colonial governance and indigenous practices. We explore how the colonial and colonized ‘healthy publics’ of Java, North Borneo, and Shanghai responded to health challenges that extended beyond the purely biomedical by seeking to monitor, control, and ‘improve’ indigenous behaviors deemed unhealthy.
This panel of Chinese and Southeast Asian colonial and medical historians investigates issues of public health, governmental authority, and institutional bias. First, Maurits Meerwijk assesses studies of Dutch colonial attempts to intervene in the domestic practices of the Javanese in the context of plague control; next, David Saunders contends that the British North Borneo Company’s efforts to prohibit alcohol consumption amongst indigenous minority communities reflected longstanding administrative anxieties; finally, Sarah Yu argues that calls for the prohibition of spitting by constituents of the Shanghai Municipal Council became useful barometers of the regime’s legitimacy and sovereignty in a semi-colonial context.
Together, these papers reveal how notions of ill-health and acts of disobedience became intertwined in colonial visions, and subsequently triggered interference in local practices. Situating these case studies under a set of common themes, this panel places the regulation of (un)healthful behaviors at the fore to offer a more nuanced perspective of public health, in which government intervention extended far into individual lives.