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Malaria and the colonial frontier in Manchuria, 1905–1940s

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This presentation considers the problem of malaria among Chinese migrant labourers in industries owned by the South Manchuria Railway Company in Manchuria during the first half of the twentieth century. Malaria epidemics in Manchuria were new phenomena which were caused by Japan’s economic and military exploitation. Expansion of malaria mosquito habitats and massive immigration from Japan, Korea and China proper led to the epidemics. During this period, outbreaks of malaria in Manchuria were related to the aggregation of labour, such as the construction of railways, rice paddy fields, coal mining and so on. Most of the patients were Chinese labourers who worked for Japanese businesses, in particular the South Manchuria Railway Company. The labourers were vulnerable to diverse diseases because of their poor living and working conditions. And their poverty and ignorance made it difficult for them to access proper treatment. The labourers sometimes brought malaria into non-malarial areas and were stigmatized as ‘mobile parasite carriers of malaria’. However, improvements in the living and working conditions of the labourers were hardly discussed and their Japanese employers rarely intervened to safeguard their health. After the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War, in July 1937, the 5-Year Industrial Development Plan of Manchukuo was promulgated with the goal of increasing mining and manufacturing production. To achieve this, a sufficient supply of Chinese labourers was required. However, malaria epidemics affected the Chinese labourers and decreased labour efficiency. Considering the production of mineral and military commodities, malaria was the costliest disease for Japan’s war regime.

This talk is part of the History of Modern Medicine and Biology series.

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