SES 99-05943 - Ruth Rogaski (Princeton University) "Knowing Manchuria: Biological Science in the Making of Asian Empires"

This project seeks to rethink recent paradigms in the history of science by considering how science functioned in the process of empire-building by Asian powers. The central goal of my research is to illuminate how Manchu, Chinese, Russian and Japanese scholars produced knowledge about the natural environment of the contested Manchurian frontier, beginning with the seventeenth century Russo-Manchu struggle for the region, and culminating in the Chinese scientific "indiginization" of Manchuria's flora and fauna on behalf of the PRC during the Korean War. This focus on Manchuria will highlight how Asian nations, while often the object of Western scientific study, also used science to further their own imperial goals. The project will also attempt to re-evaluate the notion that "indigenous" non-Western ways of knowing nature were divorced from the politics of expansion and domination. Rather than seek a simple relationship between science and empire, however, I hope to examine the complex question of how Asian scientists negotiated their intellectual and political allegiances, first in an era of shifting imperial regimes, and then in an era marked by the global rivalries of the Cold War.

The study will begin by comparing systems of knowledge about the natural world developed by the expanding Qing Empire with the sciences of botany, zoology, and natural history associated with the emerging empires of early modern Europe. The project will then consider how the "Eurasian" empire of Russia employed European scientists to help further its expansion into the Far East. Significant space will be dedicated to the role of the biological sciences in Japan's administration of Manchuria Manchukuo, an area of investigation that until now has only focused on the heinous biological warfare experiments conducted by the Kwantung Army's notorious Unit 731. Finally, particular attention will be paid to the emergence of a Chinese scientific community in Manchuria and the role of Chinese scientists in claiming Manchuria as an "indigenous" Chinese territory, particularly after the establishment of the People's Republic in 1949. By focusing on an Asian frontier encompassed by several different imperial projects of widely divergent nature, the study will offer a more nuanced appraisal of the relationship between the politics of empire and the motivations of scientists associated with empire.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Social and Economic Sciences (SES)
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Keith R. Benson
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Princeton University
United States
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