Comparing diverse photographic representations during the Manchurian pneumonic plague epidemic of 1910-1911 this paper will examine the entanglement of medical and political “visions of plague” in the course of efforts by rival empires (Russia, Japan, China) to explain and control the outbreak in the region. The paper will draw on photographs digitized by the project Visual Representations of the Third Plague Pandemic, situating their discussion within the wider context of the global emergence of epidemic photography since the 1894 plague outbreak in Hong Kong. It will be argued that, for medical, political and technical reasons, the Manchurian epidemic attracted widespread international attention and press coverage. Its photographic representation hence played a pivotal role in creating public images and imaginaries not simply of the particular disease but also of the new notion of the pandemic.
This talk was given at the Chinese History Seminar at SOAS, University of London, on 19 November 2015.