This article examines French efforts to disrupt the transfer of two thousand Chinese remains from Sài Gòn–Chợ Lớn to Hong Kong in 1892. French officials cited biohazardous threats as grounds for legal interdiction, infuriating Cantonese leaders who demanded the removal of bureaucratic obstacles to repatriations. Situating French epidemiology within a global bubonic plague outbreak, this article shows how colonial panic activated a racialized biopolitics that demonized Chinese bodies as plague-borne menaces and justified drastic measures. As interimperial competitions for biomedical research intensified, transnational Chinese practices, perceived as undermining public health initiatives, became a flashpoint of conflicts over hygiene, mobility, and interethnic interactions.
Mortal Remains as Biohazard: Chinese Repatriation, Plague Epidemiology, and Biopolitical Governance in Sài Gòn–Chợ Lớn, 1890–1898
Anh Sy Huy Le is an assistant professor of history at St. Norbert College, De Pere, Wisconsin. He earned his PhD from Michigan State University in 2021 and was a Lee Kong Chian research fellow at the National Library of Singapore. He is now completing a book manuscript on Chinese migration and its transformation of colonial Sài Gòn–Chợ Lớn since the mid-nineteenth century. The research and writing of this article were supported by a nine-month IDRF Fellowship, funded by the Social Sciences Research Council and the Andrew Mellon Foundation, and the Lee Kong Chian Research Fellowship at the National Library of Singapore. Through various stages of writing and revisions, the author would like to thank Haydon Cherry, Claire Edington, Charles Keith, Martha Lincoln, and Ann Marie Leshkowich as well as two anonymous reviewers for their feedback and insightful suggestions. The author would also like to thank Tansen Sen and Han Xiaorong for the opportunity to share a preliminary version of this work in 2019 at the Center for Global Asia, New York University in Shanghai.
Anh Sy Huy Le; Mortal Remains as Biohazard: Chinese Repatriation, Plague Epidemiology, and Biopolitical Governance in Sài Gòn–Chợ Lớn, 1890–1898. Journal of Vietnamese Studies 1 May 2023; 18 (1-2): 15–60. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/vs.2023.18.1-2.15
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