Mediating Between the Global and the Regional: Knowledge Production, Science, and Practices in Modern China
1: Constructing Chinese Dentistry: The Encounter Between Western Dentistry and Traditional Chinese Dental Knowledge in Early Twentieth-Century China
Friday, March 25, 2022
1:30pm – 3:00pm EST
Virtual Paper Presenter(s)
University of California, Santa Cruz, United States
This paper examines the construction of “Chinese dentistry” as a distinct category in the encounter between Western dentistry and traditional Chinese dental knowledge in early twentieth-century China. Prior to the arrival of Western dentistry at the turn of the twentieth century, dentistry was not an entirely separate field that required professional and systematic training in the Chinese medical system. Instead, general medical practitioners prescribed herbal remedies for basic dental care, whereas street dental technicians practiced tooth extraction and dental prosthesis. This local system, however, was challenged and restructured by Western dentistry as a nascent profession entering China in the early twentieth century. Comparing missionary writings, newspaper publications, and Chinese dental journal articles, the paper investigates how Western missionaries collected and researched traditional Chinese dental knowledge and envisioned a future for Western dentistry in China, and how that process entailed the construction of “Chinese dentistry” as a distinct and inferior category from Western dentistry. With the spread of Western-style dental schools and the professionalization of Western dentistry as part of China’s modernization, Western dentistry gradually asserted a dominant role in dental care and generated a hierarchy between professional dental experts and traditional dental technicians in China. Focusing on the case of dentistry, the paper analyzes how knowledge and technology in China are constructed and affected by transnational flows and colonial encounters. It also demonstrates the fluidity of categories of “traditional” knowledge and modern science and how they are indeed co-produced when interpreted across new spaces.