Wars against Insect Enemies: Applied Entomology, Pest Control, and the Anthropocene in China, 1915-1960

Wars against Insect Enemies: Applied Entomology, Pest Control, and the Anthropocene in China, 1915-1960

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Mosquito

“Mosquito”. From Wang Qi and Wang Siyi, Sancai Tuhui (1607; Reprint, Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 1988), 2280.

While gathering archival sources for my dissertation project Global Networks of Malaria: Tropical Medicine in Modern China, 1900-1950, I found that even during the most devastating period of the Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945), the Chinese governments made great efforts to mobilize applied entomologists to combat against two types of insect enemies: insect-pests of medical importance (such as malarial mosquitoes) and agricultural insect-pests. Why did they bother to deal with these tiny bugs while struggling for national survival against their formidable Japanese enemies? My dissertation partly answered this question by relating mosquito-eradications and malaria controls to wartime Chinese state building and national defense projects. But it did not discuss other major incest-pests of medical importance, not to mention those agricultural ones.

My current project, a history of applied entomology in 20th century China, allows me not only continue to engage with this puzzling question from a more balanced approach, but also to address some other major questions: What kinds of insects were considered pests, and why? How did applied entomology in China transform from traditional entomological knowledge and practices in the Chinese natural history, materia medica and agricultural studies to a new modern scientific discipline within global contexts in the early 20th century? How were pest-control techniques, especially those chemical insecticides, introduced and promoted for commercial needs and state building agendas of modern public health and agriculture during the 1920s and 1940s? What were the connections between applied entomology and Mao’s nationwide campaign against the “Four Pests” (rats, flies, mosquitoes, and sparrows -- later replaced by bedbugs) in the 1950s and 1960s and the campaign’s ecological aftermaths? And most importantly, what would the Chinese insect-pests’ experience tell us about the Anthropocene debate in global environmental humanities? By bringing an environmental perspective to the global history of science, technology and medicine, my project explores how global circulations of entomological knowledge and chemical insecticides altered relations of the Chinese people, the environment, and insects during the Anthropocene.