Article ID: CBB582601097

Local Food and Transnational Science: New Boundary Issues of the Caterpillar Fungus in Republican China (2020)


This article focuses on new boundary issues that have emerged from the encounter of modern science from abroad and local foodstuffs exemplified by the caterpillar fungus in Republican China (1912–49). The caterpillar fungus was believed in premodern Chinese society to be able to reversibly transform from a blade of grass to a worm, thereby crossing boundaries between two species. It had different uses, ranging from a culinary ingredient to a medicinal substance, and in this way also crossed boundaries of identity. At the beginning of the twentieth century, scientific scholarship from Japan began to bring new perceptions of the fungus to Chinese society through translation. Modern science expanded human vision into the microscopic structure of the caterpillar fungus, and deconstructed it into two nontransformable species grouped with other similar species. The Chinese term for it also entered the Japanese language. However, the category of the term was broadened, crossing the boundary between the caterpillar fungus and other similar species, thereby indicating semantic boundaries of shared vocabulary. As local food or material culture in Republican China engaged scientific attention, the caterpillar fungus as a disenchanted wonder of nature sometimes transformed into a scientific wonder, eliciting new explorations within different scientific boundaries. The new scholarship led to tensions and negotiations between domains of knowledge about this organism but would not necessarily drive out the vernacular culinary or medical expertise. The emergent boundary issues overall depict both rupture and continuity in modern Chinese food knowledge.

Citation URI

Similar Citations

Article Jia-Chen Fu; (2016)
Houses of Experiment: Making Space for Science in Republican China (/isis/citation/CBB064259086/)

Chapter Elman, Benjamin A.; (2014)
Toward a History of Modern Science in Republican China (/isis/citation/CBB001213952/)

Article Sabban, Françoise; (2012)
Histoire de l'alimentation chinoise: bilan bibliographique (1911--2011) (/isis/citation/CBB001320879/)

Article Joshua A. Hubbard; (2020)
Invulnerable Facts: Infant Mortality and Development in Nationalist Gansu (/isis/citation/CBB568414717/)

Book Jia-Chen Fu; (2019)
The Other Milk: Reinventing Soy in Republican China (/isis/citation/CBB123708142/)

Book Michael J. Hathaway; (2022)
What a Mushroom Lives For: Matsutake and the Worlds They Make (/isis/citation/CBB565097903/)

Article Dominic Steavu; (2018)
The Marvelous Fungus and The Secret of Divine Immortals (/isis/citation/CBB732903543/)

Book Yaron Seidman DAOM; Sean Xiang Lin Lei; Lois Nethery; Zac Patterson; (2015)
Chinese Medicine Liberation: Inner Documents (/isis/citation/CBB665325494/)

Authors & Contributors
Di, Lu
Fu, Jia-Chen
Lois Nethery
Jan Kiely
Sean Xiang Lin Lei
Michael J. Hathaway
East Asian Science, Technology and Society: An International Journal
Micrologus: Nature, Sciences and Medieval Societies
Radical History Review
Indian Journal of History of Science
History and Technology
Food and History
Hunyuan Group Inc
Springer Nature
University of Washington Press
Princeton University Press
Food and foods
Technology and society
Food science; food technology
Printing press
Tung, Chung-shu
Time Periods
20th century, early
20th century, late
19th century
Qing dynasty (China, 1644-1912)
Tang dynasty (China, 618-907)
Republic of China (1912-1949)
Chongqing No. 3 Children's Home
Henry Lester Institute of Medical Research

Be the first to comment!

{{ comment.created_by.username }} on {{ comment.created_on | date:'medium' }}

Log in or register to comment