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Transnational Travels of the Caterpillar Fungus, 1700-1949

Lu, D; (2017) Transnational Travels of the Caterpillar Fungus, 1700-1949. Doctoral thesis , UCL (University College London). Green open access

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This dissertation explores the transformation of Chinese materia medica in the 19th- and the first half of the 20th-centuries, especially the Republican period, in a global context. It is based on a microhistory of the caterpillar fungus, a curious object and also a medicinal substance initially used by Tibetans no later than the 15th century and then assimilated into Chinese materia medica from the 18th century. This study first traces the transmission of specimens and knowledge of the caterpillar fungus in Chinese society and from China to France, Britain, Russia and Japan by the end of the 19th century; then it investigates the tensions and negotiations between Chinese and newly produced European knowledge about the caterpillar fungus, initially emerging in 18th- and 19th-century Europe but then shifting to communities of scientists, traditional physicians and other intellectuals in Republican China. The overall research question is that why did the caterpillar fungus attract the attention of so many different scientific communities, and how did its transnational travels impact on the making of the 20th-century Chinese materia medica? Drawing on Bruno Latour’s discourse on the agency of objects and characterisations of modernity, this dissertation demonstrates that the caterpillar fungus stimulated people’s curiosity about exotic objects and their pursuit of new medicinal substances, with itself changing from a transformable wonder in China to a scientific wonder in Europe and East Asia in transnational networks of knowledge production; in the meantime the caterpillar fungus also witnessed the powerful rhetoric of modern science. On the basis of a further analysis of changes in knowledge about Chinese medicinal substances represented by the caterpillar fungus in Republican China, I argue that the ‘modern’ Chinese materia medica, characterised by plural knowledge systems related to and in conversation with the new goal of scientification, had never been modern.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Title: Transnational Travels of the Caterpillar Fungus, 1700-1949
Event: UCL (University College London)
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS > Dept of History
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1557398
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