From Bloodsucker to Disease-carrier: Mosquito and Chinese Hygienic Modernity
by Yue Wu
Mosquito has been frequently adopted as a metaphor indicating bureaucratic corruption by Chinese literati throughout the imperial history. The representation of mosquitoes is therefore implicated with Confucian moral discourse that lays the cornerstone of socio-political structure in premodern China. However, the literary portrayal of mosquitoes was confronted by a new scientific rendering as the disease-carrier by the end of 19th century with the introduction of Western science in Chinese intelligentsia. While mosquito as a moral vehicle still secured a voice during the Republican era, it disappeared almost entirely after the establishment of People’s Republic of China in 1950s. Through an extensive investigation on classical anthologies, newspapers, journal articles, and Communist Party propagandas, this project traces the shifted image of mosquitoes from late Qing to Maoist era in sight of the rise of scientific discourse. It argues that the transformed perception of mosquitoes was entangled with modern state-building in 20th century China, centralizing on the goal of “hygienic modernity” that connects personal well-being with public welfare. Moreover, while the discourse of science appropriated that of morality in China’s modernization cause, it was exploited in Communist China to justify ideological struggle against class enemies, which eventually extended the violence towards nature’s menace to human sphere.