Thesis ID: CBB333984588

Camphor, a Plastic History: China, Taiwan, and Celluloid, 1868-1937 (2018)


Until the late nineteenth century camphor, extracted from the camphor tree cinnamomum camphora native to southeast China, Taiwan, and Japan, was a luxury commodity used for religious and medicinal purposes. That changed with the invention of celluloid plastic, the world’s first man-made plastic. From around 1870 forward camphor was used as an important industrial input to make celluloid, first for a variety of household goods, and then later as a backing for photographic roll film. Current literature on camphor only mentions its modern industrial uses in passing, while literature on celluloid often omit its Asian origins. This dissertation seeks to fill that gap by relying on Qing dynasty records, British Parliamentary papers, archival materials from the Celluloid Manufacturing Co. and Eastman Kodak, as well as Republican-era Chinese periodicals. I argue that camphor was an essential commodity for the development of the twentieth century modern world, and that the supply of camphor was dependent upon the political and economic conditions of imperialism in East Asia.

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Authors & Contributors
Wang, Quanlai
Cao, Shucun
Scheid, Volker
Mao, Shi-zhen
Xu, Fei
Teng, Emma
Nei Menggu Shifan Daxue Xuebao (Ziran Kexue Ban)
Chinese Journal for the History of Science and Technology
Late Imperial China
Taiwanese Journal for Studies of Science, Technology, and Medicine
Journal of Dialectics of Nature
Spontaneous Generations
Harvard University Asia Center
Princeton University
Chinese University of Hong Kong
Cross-cultural interaction; cultural influence
East Asia, civilization and culture
Transmission of ideas
Missionaries and missions
Science and society
Edkins, Joseph
Li, Shanlan
Whewell, William
Richthofen, Ferdinand von
Li Wenyu (1840–1911)
United States
Qing dynasty (China, 1644-1912)
19th century
20th century, early
18th century
20th century
17th century
Jesuits (Society of Jesus)

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