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The Great Manchurian Plague of 1910-1911

The Great Manchurian Plague of 1910-1911: The Geopolitics of an Epidemic Disease

Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 192
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  • Book Info
    The Great Manchurian Plague of 1910-1911
    Book Description:

    When plague broke out in Manchuria in 1910 as a result of transmission from marmots to humans, it struck a region struggling with the introduction of Western medicine, as well as with the interactions of three different national powers: Chinese, Japanese, and Russian. In this fascinating case history, William Summers relates how this plague killed as many as 60,000 people in less than a year, and uses the analysis to examine the actions and interactions of the multinational doctors, politicians, and ordinary residents who responded to it.

    Summers covers the complex political and economic background of early twentieth-century Manchuria and then moves on to the plague itself, addressing the various contested stories of the plague's origins, development, and ecological ties. Ultimately, Summers shows how, because of Manchuria's importance to the world powers of its day, the plague brought together resources, knowledge, and people in ways that enacted in miniature the triumphs and challenges of transnational medical projects such as the World Health Organization.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-18476-1
    Subjects: Health Sciences, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Note on Romanization of Chinese Words
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. CHAPTER ONE Plague Comes to Manchuria
    (pp. 1-25)

    “Human activity in this place seems to have completely died out; the streets are empty and deserted and all the houses are left desolate. Those who were not struck by the plague in the town itself fled terror-stricken and were overtaken by the black epidemic outside the town. The bazaars and markets are closed. Dogs alone roam in the streets, howling and feeding on the corpses of their former masters. The stench is horrible. The hospitals are abandoned. There are no ill people any more and no medical men—all have died. Only on a few beds lie the dead...

  7. CHAPTER TWO The Manchurian Question
    (pp. 26-50)

    Manchuria is a region in Northeast Asia that is traditionally the land of the Manchus, a people of the Tungus ethnolinguistic group (distinct from both Chinese and Korean), but the region has long been regarded as a dependency of China. The Chinese refer to Manchuria as the “Three Eastern Provinces” (Dong San Sheng) and often distinguish it from “China proper.” It has also been called Liaotung (Liaodong), in reference to the land east of the Liao River. To the west it is bordered by Inner Mongolia, to the north by Siberia, and to the southwest it is divided from Korea...

  8. CHAPTER THREE The Plague
    (pp. 51-79)

    With occasional outbreaks of plague as the norm, it is not surprising that the start of the 1910–1911 epidemic in Manchouli went unnoticed at the beginning. The only descriptions we have are based on the Russian railway authorities in Manchouli, but they provide a picture of an initial routine problem that quickly escalated out of control. The sole means for control of plague at the time was isolation and various levels of quarantine of large populations of suspected cases. At the beginning of the epidemic, the Russian presence in Manchouli consisted of nine physicians, twenty-six assistants, and seventy-six nurses,...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR The International Plague Conference and Its Aftermath
    (pp. 80-106)

    As the plague gathered strength and continued its southward devastation along the railway routes of Manchuria, the de facto foreign governments in Harbin and Dairen perceived both the threat and an opportunity in terms of their national interests. The Japanese in the south saw the chance to solidify their already entrenched position in Manchuria by further extending their influence into the area of public health, quarantines, and other forms of population control. In the northern city of Harbin, the Russian authorities saw the plague as an opportunity to break out of their restrictions to the railway corridors and bring in...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE The Plague’s Origin: Disease Ecology
    (pp. 107-129)

    Manchuria in 1910 was a land of contrasts: a site of international rivalry and commercial competition, a region of problematic relationship to the future of the Chinese empire, and a place of contrasting cultures and traditional practices. In such a context the plague epidemic and its wider ramifications can be best understood against a background of local particulars. For many Chinese, Manchuria represented a distant land, a frontier culturally, politically, and geographically. The land of the Manchus was home to a people considered distinctly foreign and, as Crossley described, objects of xenophobic hostility by the majority Han population.¹ Suddenly, however...

  11. CHAPTER SIX Plague and Politics
    (pp. 130-152)

    While national rivalries and geopolitical concerns often surfaced in the day-to-day accounts of the plague itself and even more so in the events connected with the international plague conference in Mukden, the diplomatic record of the Manchurian plague is rich with examples of subtle and not so subtle political maneuvers by the governments concerned with their interests in Manchuria as well as the larger East Asian sphere.

    The most obvious and public competitors in Manchuria were Russia and Japan, but the French, British, Germans, and Americans all had interests there as well. China, although weak in almost every way possible,...

  12. EPILOGUE: A Century Later
    (pp. 153-162)

    Since 1910, medical knowledge of plague and other epidemic infectious diseases has grown to an unimagined and, indeed, nearly unmanageable extent. Yet, just as surprising, in several ways very little has changed. The twenty-first-century plague fighter has an impressive array of antibiotics to deploy, rapid laboratory tests to use, and global communication networks to access. Just the same, recent epidemics have been fraught with many of the challenges of the great Manchurian plague of 1910–1911.

    To highlight these parallels, one need only consider a few widespread epidemic diseases of the intervening century: influenza, plague, Nipah virus, severe acute respiratory...

  13. Appendix: Place Names in Manchuria
    (pp. 163-164)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 165-188)
  15. Glossary
    (pp. 189-192)
  16. Index
    (pp. 193-202)