Anatomy and the Reconfiguration of Life and Death in Republican China

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

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This article argues that the establishment of anatomo-power in China preceded and set the foundation for biopower. Anatomo-power is disciplinary power over live bodies in the military, schools, and hospitals, but also the power of the medical profession over dead bodies to investigate pathology through dissection. At the turn of the twentieth century, Chinese conceptions of political anatomy were used to advocate anatomical knowledge, and an anatomy law in 1913 made routinized dissection possible. Chinese society began to be transformed as old taboos were broken, and thousands of new terms allowed the scientific worldview to take root among professionals and the public. Anatomical researchers addressed both microscopic pathology to cure individuals and macroscopic questions that grouped individuals into a population to be managed, or that sought data to tell new narratives about the origins and future of humanity—a new political anatomy based on the practice of human dissection.