University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Twentieth Century Think Tank > The Anthropocene seen by the Anopheles: fighting malarial mosquitoes with chemicals in modern China, 1910s–1960s

The Anthropocene seen by the Anopheles: fighting malarial mosquitoes with chemicals in modern China, 1910s–1960s

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What could the human malaria-vector Anopheles mosquito tell us about the Anthropocene in China? This paper intends to approach the Anthropocene in China by examining the origin, development and aftermath of malarial mosquito controls with chemical pesticides from the 1910s to 1960s. With the spread of germ theory and medical entomology from the West in the 1910s, mosquitoes were transformed from annoying but insignificant blood suckers to dangerous and must-be eliminated disease-carriers. Certain western chemical pesticides were also imported to supplement traditional Chinese measures and organic insecticides. In the Nanjing decade (1928–1937) and the wartime period (1937–1945), several major chemical pesticides were experimented with in government-led campaigns against Anopheles mosquitoes and malaria as part of state medicine and national defense. But it was only after 1945, with the introduction of effective DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane), that chemical pesticides began to dominate in mosquito controls. These chemicals were widely used in health campaigns in PR China during the 1950s and 1960s. I will argue the massive usage of chemical pesticides is a useful indicator of the coming of the Anthropocene in China: it not only drastically reduced the distribution and population density of the Anopheles, but also released toxic substances into the environment: for example, DDT residues can still be found in fishes in certain locations. In short, this paper supports the view that the Anthropocene in China began about 1950.

This talk is part of the Twentieth Century Think Tank series.

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