Thesis ID: CBB087183145

Transferring Western Medical Professional Institutions to China – Riding with Missions and Dismissing Native Medicine, 1807-1937: Guangzhou, Shanghai, and Changsha (2019)


This dissertation examines the process of transferring Western medical ideas and practices to China. The British East India Company surgeons initiated this movement in 1807 and medical missionaries extended it from the 1830s into the 1930s. This account is based on data found in archival repositories in China, manuscript libraries in the United States, and reports in missionary and medical missionary publications. This study adds to the historiography on China’s medical missionary study by demonstrating the medical and religious integrative trajectory from its beginning to its ending in China. The results challenge assumptions about the nature and extent of a presumed modernity in this activity. Rather than asking what medical missionary efforts contributed to the broader missionary activity, this study investigated how medical practitioners were able to take advantage of the religious incursions. Careful analysis of local records indicates that the early foreign medical practitioners were typically in a nearly pre-professional state in terms of the skills they brought to China. Instead of bringing to China a firmly established and fully coherent Western medicine, these medical missionaries echoed medical trends in the West. Over time, they brought Western clinical institutions, the professional organizations, and increasingly advanced medical education. By the early twentieth century, the medical professionals gradually parted ways with their missionary sponsors. Relying primarily on Western sources, this study identifies three groups of Chinese who studied Western medical practice. Up to the 1880s, Chinese received apprentice training in order to become assistants to medical missionaries and their influence largely remained local. From 1880 on, Western physicians introduced advanced medical education. Elite Chinese physicians with Western training officially organized themselves in the 1910s. In 1932, these well-positioned physicians took over the leadership of the Western medical profession when the foreign and Chinese medical associations merged. Significantly, in the 1910s, the first generation of modern medical historians emerged. They struggled to make senses of their native medicine, which had been overshadowed by rhetoric that privileged Western culture. Nonetheless, they brought Chinese medical history to the world stage. The epilogue describes the abrupt interruption caused by the Japanese invasion in 1937. The medical missionaries’ movement in China ended when the majority of them left China, leaving a complex legacy.

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Authors & Contributors
Glover, Denise M.
Harrell, Stevan
Harrison, Henrietta
Hart, Roger
Hsia, Florence C.
Hsia, R. Po-chia
Korean Journal of Medical History
Ziran Kexueshi Yanjiu (Studies in the History of Natural Sciences)
Chinese Journal for the History of Science and Technology
East Asian Science, Technology, and Medicine
Journal of Asian Studies
Journal of the American Academy of Religion
University of Chicago
Faber & Faber
Harvard University Press
Hong Kong University Press
Johns Hopkins University Press
Oxford University Press
Cross-cultural interaction; cultural influence
Missionaries and missions
Transmission of ideas
Science and religion
East Asia, civilization and culture
Medicine and religion
Ricci, Matteo
Clavius, Christopher
Gage, Nina Diadamia
Wolf, Anna Dryden
Xu, Guangqi
Graham, David Crockett
Time Periods
19th century
20th century, early
17th century
Qing dynasty (China, 1644-1912)
16th century
18th century
United States
Guangzhou (China)
Shanghai (China)
Jesuits (Society of Jesus)

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