Research Report – Lijing Jiang
Duration of Stay: July 1-July 5, 2014
In July 2014, I visited the Institute of Sinology at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, Germany, where I accessed the SASS collection on Intellectual, Technological, and Social Histories of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). My trip to and accommodation in Erlangen was partly subsidized by the travel fund provided by the Collection.
I am currently working on a historical project on experimental biology of goldfish in modern China and its relation to changing politics, fishery development, and styles of genetics and embryology. The Collection has a very large section on natural sciences, which provided ample primary sources for my interest. The five-day visit only allowed me to go through about one quarter of the books and to focus mainly on those of biology. However, this trip has proved highly rewarding.
First of all, the SASS collection offers a wealth of first-hand materials on the rise of Michurinist biology in early 1950s China, ranging from translations of Trofim Lysenko’s works, particularly experimental designs and reports, to Chinese biologists’ interpretations of them, as well as high-school teaching syllabi including the teaching of Michurinist biology. A particularly interesting example is an anthology of high-school biological education The Reform of High-School Biology Teaching《中学生物教学的改造》, which offers a collection of a number of biologists and educators’ views on how Michurinist biology should be taught in China. One educator claimed that even if biological facts were the same, the representation of them should be unique in the revolutionary biology. In particular, the presenting of the facts in science should not seem like an explorative search but as a definite mastering of regularities.
Second, for my particular interest in fishery biology and the embryologist Zhu Xi 朱洗 (1900-1963) who helped to solve the artificial fertilization problem of pond fishery, the SASS Collection offers especially valuable materials published in Shanghai. It is perhaps because Zhu had worked in Shanghai after 1949 and fishery development had been a regional strength in Shanghai since long before. Rare books of Zhu’s work in the 1930s and 1940s, such as The Life of the Cell《细胞之生命》were found here. A great number of fishery textbooks and popularization books also showed that in the 1950s, the improvement of fresh-water fishery was very much a governmental concern, as evidenced in books such as Rural Fishery《农村养鱼》. Compared with the fishery books published in Republican China that I found at the Archive of the Institute of Modern History, Academia Sinica, Taiwan, these books also show more emphasis on modern methods and tools. In addition, the record about fishery concerns of getting fertilized eggs of fishes in the pond confirmed scientists’ claim that their work in artificial fertilization was to combine production with scientific theory. Although only Zhu and a few became famous for their work, the materials I found also listed a number of other names that tried to develop similar methods during the same time, questioning the historical constructiveness of Zhu and the few’s glorified contribution.
The richness of the SASS collection certainly goes beyond the 1950s. I have found a copy of Li Shanlan’s 1858 Botany. The Collection also has first-hand reports about scientific exchanges between China and developed countries in the 1970s and 1980s, such as the series Reports on Investigations Abroad《出国考察报告》and individual scientists’ reports about their experiences abroad. In the volume about scientific exchanges on molecular biology, I found that Chinese biologists had – interestingly – regarded the Nixon’s War on Cancer as hypocritical on the grounds that it had not addressed environmental issues but only focused on the “minor” issue of cancer-causing viruses. Meanwhile, they considered Chinese prevention campaign against cancer more effective. A recent paper of mine mentioned that American biologists voiced similar views in the late 1970s. This is the first time that I saw similar opinion from the side of China, yet perhaps out of quite different motives.