Early-Career Scholar Forum

Cultural Encounters in Pandemics: What Happened When Traditional Medicine Met Biomedicine in Japanese Colonial Taiwan

Friday, 2 September 2022 | 12:15 - 13:00 (JST)
Zoom Meeting
  • Hung Yin Tsai Tokyo College, the University of Tokyo
  • Kenneth Mori McElwain Professor, Institute of Social Science, The University of Tokyo

In this talk, I focus on how the Japanese colonial government dealt with pandemics, why local Taiwanese people resisted the public-health policy even though they knew the outbreak was real. I will also analyze how the official definition of medicine in Taiwan changed from a traditional conception to a modern one, and I will demonstrate how our current idea of having this one mainstream Western medicine vs alternative or complementary non-Western medicines can be traced back to colonization, especially in its 18th, 19th, and 20th-century forms. I will also explore the idea of anti-science and anti-vaccination from a historical perspective. This idea of anti-science or anti-vaccination is not just a modern problem. It happened in 19th-century Taiwan, too, ironically during a pandemic.


HungYin Tsai is a Postdoctoral Fellow at Tokyo College in the University of Tokyo. Her research focuses on past and present cultural encounters in medicine, where global exchanges have re-defined our ideas of the body, diseases, treatments, and life. She is currently working on a comparative project to explore how nutraceuticals that are made from traditional herbs have changed our understanding of health. Through this project, she analyzes the dynamics of bioprospecting and human enhancements, as well as how the lines between medicines and supplements, between the traditional and modern, between nature and artifacts, are established.