Peter Braden

Ph.D., Department of History, University of California-San Diego

2023 to 2024
Emanuel Fellow

Collateral Killing: Humans, Rodents, and the Making of the Life Sciences in China, 1940-1980

Rodents are both experimental subjects, and historical subjects. They are bodies for scientists to scrutinize, and sentient, social beings with memories, fears, preferences, and aversions. The behavior and physiology of these intelligent individuals cause their lives to intersect with diverse human communities and institutions, from farms and sewers to laboratories and biological warfare production facilities. This project situates Chinese laboratory animals in their historical and scientific context, by showing how nonhuman agency and subjectivity interacted with human programs of biomedical research, public health, and national defense in midtwentieth century China. During this period, the Imperial Japanese invasion and the wars in Korea and Vietnam motivated Chinese scientific and public health authorities to launch ambitious, simultaneous programs of laboratory animal husbandry and rodent extermination. The project advances a novel, multispecies approach to the histories of scientific experimentation, ecological intervention, and drug development. As historical subjects, rodents challenge the tidy boundaries between war and peace, field and laboratory, and traditional Chinese and Western biomedical understandings of sickness and health.