The Chinese-Russian Plague Expedition (Summer 1911): A Photographic Approach

The visualization of the first Manchurian pneumonic plague epidemic (1910-
11) is commonly identified with the spectacular grotesque of Russian depictions of the
outbreak, Chinese visual efforts to normalize the event, Japanese exercises in selfstaging
South Manchuria as the seat of scientific excellence, but also, beyond the three
empires in control of the area at the time, with lay and missionary European and
American sources, such as Richard P. Strong’s lantern-slides. Examining what usually
escapes historical attention, that is the aftermath of the great epidemic, this paper
focuses on two photographic albums produced by Wu Liande (伍連德) during the joint
Chinese-Russian plague expedition to the Inner Asian steppes in the summer of 1911.
Framing this visual production within the epistemic conundrum faced by Wu in view of
his inability to confirm the existence of plague in local hosts, this seminar examines
how photography contributed to Chinese-Russian scientific competition, whilst at the
same time rendering the environment on the Chinese-Russian frontier a scientifically
knowable and actionable category.

Christos Lynteris

This paper was presented at the China Research Seminar Series, Department of East Asian Studies, University of Cambridge on 11 November 2015.


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