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“Bio-sophers”? German Physicians as “Ethnographers” of Meiji Japan

11.05.2005 | 18:30

Hoi-eun Kim, Harvard University

Abriss

 Despite several pioneering studies on the German influence on the development of modern medical science in Meiji Japan, intriguing intercultural stories emerging from this transfer of scientific knowledge have not received due attention from students of German-Japanese history.  In my presentation, I would like to shed a light on the question of how the German physicians acted as “ethnographers” of Japanese people and culture.
    Physician-cum-anthropologists in Germany actually constructed the “primitive cultures” they claimed to study “objectively” and made an enormous effort to create an unbridgeable intellectual and social distance between “native” cultures and their own.  Throughout the presentation, I will emphasize that German physicians in Japan, like their colleagues in Germany, consciously tried to differentiate themselves from the supposedly “primitive” Japanese culture and people.  The end product of the incessant process of inquiries into things Japanese, however, was not just the “scientific” marginalization or racial essentialization of Japanese culture and people; the German physicians themselves were also necessarily transformed by their cross-cultural experiences, as was their concept of “Germanness.”  I will also claim that though the Germans assumed the role of eyewitness, more often than not they became objects of observation.  As much as the Germans possessed agency in observing Japanese people, the Japanese also had equal strength of agency in casting an “anthropological” gaze.
The first section of this presentation will attempt to reconstruct, mainly using the letters of Emma Schultze, various aspects of the everyday life of German physicians living in Japan (1870-1905).  The second section discusses the founding and the activities of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Natur- und Völkerkunde Ostasiens (OAG: German East Asiatic Society) which functioned as the focal point of intellectual and cultural activities of the Germans in Japan.  In the third section I will present the writings of two physicians, Leopold Müller and Erwin Baelz, as examples of the “ethnographic” activities of German physicians and of how their writings reflect their “imagined realities.”  Relevant vignettes from Emma Schultze’s letters will also be included to explicate whether there may have been a gender differential among different observing parties.

Hoi-eun Kim is a PhD Candidate in the Department of History, Harvard University.

Koordination: Andrea Germer

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