Debating “Scientific Warfare” in Republican China
In the 1930s and 40s, modernizing elites in China demanded to “scientize” (hexuehua 科學化) Chinese society in every regard, which included a science-based education in schools, policies against superstition, the funding of research, and the promotion of hygiene and biomedicine. This discourse also affected the military sphere and, together with similar debates in Europe, produced the notion that future wars would be “scientific wars” (kexue zhanzheng 科學戰爭). The ubiquitous term (which can also be translated as “scientific warfare”) usually referred to the application of natural and life sciences for military purposes and the use of scientific knowledge to create and improve military technology. It appeared in the context of tanks and military aviation, chemical and biological weapons, or futuristic visions about remotely controlled drones, death rays, highly contagious germs, or other science fantasies. This paper explores the role attributed to scientific research in the military and for conducting warfare, and how the idea of “scientific warfare” concerned the participation of scientists in military affairs in China during the Republican era (1927–1949). It shows how the link between science, war, and the military prior, during, and shortly after the Second World War had a strong effect on the general view and acceptance of science in China.
Nicolas Schillinger is a cultural historian of nineteenth and twentieth century China with a focus on the history of science and the history of masculinity. Nicolas received his Ph.D. from Heidelberg University, where he was a member of the Cluster Asia and Europe in a Global Context. He was also a postdoctoral fellow at the Graduate School for East Asian Studies, and a lecturer and visiting professor at the Institute of Chinese Studies at Freie Universität of Berlin. After a one-year stay at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, he is now a member of the Institute of East Asian Studies at the University of Duisburg-Essen.
His research and teaching interests also include the history of the Qing dynasty, Republican China, China during the Cold War, the body, medicine, graphic novels, and the military. His first book, The Body and Military Masculinity in Late Qing and Early Republican China: The Art of Governing Soldiers dealt with military reforms and its cultural, social, and political consequences as well as the changing concepts of masculinity in China between 1895 and 1916. He is currently working on his second book tentatively titled Scientizing an Army–Military Medicine and Life Sciences in Republican China.