James Henderson's Shanghai hygiene and the British constitution in nineteenth century British treaty port China

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Conference Proceeding

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Fear for the survival of the British constitution was the main concern of British medical practitioners on colonial service. To address that concern, they would reconcile their understanding of constitution with their understanding of hygiene. Until the reception of germ theory, hygienic (preventative) medicine was the practice in the nineteenth century and incorporated such Galenic classifications as the naturals and the non-naturals. This paper investigates the role of traditional medical theory, as practiced in the centre, in the observation and experimentation of ‘health’ in the periphery. With China as its case study, it examines the extent to and process by which these precepts changed in reaction to the pragmatic considerations of colonial life. In answer to these questions, the paper studies Shanghai Hygiene or Hints for the Preservation of Health in China by James Henderson MD of the Customs Medical Service and published in 1863. Shanghai Hygiene served as a pivotal and, at 100 pages in length, pithy contribution to the field of hygienic medicine. Its aim was to prevent disease among British residents in China. As a book of advice, it drew from both the classical origins and modern developments of hygiene and applied both traditions to the treatment of the British expatriate community in Shanghai and the rest of China. Hence, Shanghai Hygiene applied classical and modern theories of preventative medicine to imperial practice. It cautioned the British community against the health risks from the Chinese community that, like the great unwashed of the metropolis, was ignorant, dirty, and, necessarily, immoral.

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The 20th Annual World History Association Conference: World History from the Centre and the Periphery, 2011 Jul 7-11, Beijing

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