Shuji Cao, Yushang Li, The Plague: War and Peace: Environmental and Social Changes in China. Jinan: Shandong Pictorial Publishing House, 2006. Journal of History and Anthropology 6 (2008): 286-289.
Book Review: Shuji Cao, Yushang Li, The Plague: War and Peace: Environmental and Social Changes in China, 1230-1960. Jinan: Shandong Pictorial Publishing House, 2006. 466 p.* It’s the impact of New Cultural History, which rose at 1980s, drives historians to reconsider the limitation of previous history research and seek breakouts. As two important branches of New Cultural History, medical history (including the history of human disease) and environmental history appeared under this circumstance and become popular nowadays. Shuji Cao and Yushang Li’s new work The Plague is a good case study of applying New Cultural History Methodology to history academic research. Shuji Cao, a professor of Shanghai Jiao Tong University and once worked in the Center for Historical Geography Studies at Fudan University, is adept at demographic transition research. The brilliant new work The Plague is based on his discussion of mortality rate in The Population History of China (vol.4-6). Although the mortality rate estimates are sometimes questionable, it is a common predicament in medical history and human disease study, since the primary sources are not only scarce but also vague, and could be interpreted in difference ways. The first part of the book is about the conception and methodology of research. The authors try to break out the framework of “History of Epidemic” and make a clear direction to “History of Human Disease” study. This makes the research become more in-depth. It is so difficult to match the ancient names of diseases to modern ones; because same disease names between ancient and modern could turn out to be different diseases, while different disease names could actually be the same disease. “E’he,” “Geda wen,” “Yangmao wen” can be recognized as plague, but “Shanghan rezheng” might be too complex to be recognized. By now, there is a large unknowable field in the study of human disease, especially when it comes into social history discussions. Jared M. Diamond (1999) and William H. McNeill (1998) endeavor to combine the research of human disease and medical treatment to the process of social transition, in order to restore the more complex history truth. This book to some extent draws a picture and provides details of the relationship between disease and social transition. The second and third parts of the book are the core sections of the book: the propagation of plague in War and Peace. Based on the records of primary sources, the authors try to describe the propagation of disease in both normal and abnormal periods. From their perspectives, the plague that was popular during Jin-Yuan War, could be taken by Mongolian army from west Yunnan (source of plague) to Sichuan and Hubei. Another suspicious source was among east Guangdong, south Jiangxi and Fujian. They believe that the plague was a combination of pneumonic plague and bubonic plague, according to the clinical symptom records in Nan’an Fu (p. 82). However, the disease was plague is still not a valid statement: the evidences that the 3 of the 611 preserved tombstones which showed the owners died in plague also cannot demonstrate the situation that “abnormally high mortality rate once appeared.” (PP. 96-7); and it’s hard to judge if “Datou wen” and “Dare zhi zheng” in Daliang county were plague (p. 112). However, the argumentation in the “legends and facts in Yuan dynasty” part is brilliant: the authors mimicked how plague spreads in Europe and used the same logic to connect the fragmented Chinese plague records into a reasonable plague propagation story in Yuan Dynasty China. The shortages of the book are that the authors didn’t touch down to the in-depth transition of local society, and some other analysis such as the defective of Jin-Yuan records and epidemic affection of Qing army, need to be strengthened. Chapter six narrates the prevalent plague after the rebellion of Du Wenxiu, the Muslim leader, in Xianfeng period. They use the more accurate and complete local records and investigations to estimate the mortality rate and try to construct an evaluation model. The conclusion is “61% of the population who died in War is actually died in plague.” (p. 156) The epidemic transmissions in Peaceful period are modeled in four large regions: Yunnan, Fujian and Guangdong, Northeast and Northwest China. Chapter seven is focus in Yunnan. Based on the detailed and clear records, the time-series and cross-regional descriptions about plague propagation are concrete and persuasive. Several models of epidemic transmission are constructed: “town-village,” “town-town,” “county-county.” The trading route transmission model is denied. Chapter eight reveals the continuity and volatility of plague in Fujian and Guangdong, but lack of a solid case study. However, the authors find that analysis based on the data collection of the number of people who died in plague in rural area is effective in this region. Chapter nine shows the epidemic transmission in the region where modern traffic such as railway was widely applied. Chapter ten and eleven narrates what happen after 1930s. They rely on the modern medical science reports and investigations, and the abundant Qing Dynasty records to study the cities and temples sites in railway line. In this regard, daily lives in both war and peace ages are revealed. Narratives in the fourth part are under a framework of disaster relieves and modern public medical treatments and hygiene. The Shanghai case reflects the relationship between immunization and transformation of a modern nation. The authors also discuss the ideas, measures and results of disinfection in South China, Shanxi and Inner Mongolia. They indicate that the traditional Chinese medicine treats plague by testing the older medicaments and adding or cutting the dose, not by searching new medicaments. Meanwhile, people’s traditional views also blocked the impetus of modern medical treatment and hygiene. Local government, central government and popular organizations’ attitude towards immunization was also fickle (e.g. Charity House). The authors express their ideas of meaning of space and their philosophies of environment in the last part. The subtitle of the book “Environmental and Social Changes in China,” tells us it is a work of social environmental history. The authors use a lot of archives, investigations and reports of local archives and health and epidemic prevention stations, the special and previous materials successfully reveal part of the history. In the discussion of history of human disease, though the authors may falsely apply or interpret some Chinese medical texts (e.g. “Datou tianxing,” “Geda,”), their analysis and research on the names of diseases are valuable. Moreover, the regional geography, the authors also dedicate to describe the epidemic transmission process from animals to human based on their major field of research on regional geography, encouraging the readers to investigate epidemic history, environmental history and social history, to figure out the correspondence of pathology and symptom, the support of diseases, and the relations of environment and social changing. These are all what the book could leave us for thinking. Boyi Chen (Peking University)