"Lepers for Show": The Performance of Medical Authority and the Illusion of the Chinese Medical Threat in Nineteenth-Century America
Date Thesis Awarded
Honors Thesis -- Access Restricted On-Campus Only
Bachelors of Arts (BA)
This thesis submits that white American physicians purposefully championed the image of the Chinese population as a medical threat. In an era of emerging pseudo-race science, organizing around the specter of Chinese disease permitted doctors to convey what may have well been a genuine belief in the racial deficiency of the Chinese population. However, espousing rhetoric and policies that denigrated Chinese migrants also enabled doctors to gain social capital: enhanced social standing, advancement in the American marketplace, and increased political power. Some physicians, such as Dr. Mary Sawtelle, employed this social capital to claim community credibility in a career field that was just emerging from skepticism; other doctors, like Dr. Charles C. O’Donnell, employed the construction of Chinese disease to run for political office. Primary sources such as newspapers, medical journals, and testimonies from state and congressional hearings suggest that physicians who utilized medicalized nativist rhetoric against Chinese immigrants engaged large audiences and grew their name recognition, popularity, and “personal brands.”
Wyszynski, Claire, ""Lepers for Show": The Performance of Medical Authority and the Illusion of the Chinese Medical Threat in Nineteenth-Century America" (2023). Undergraduate Honors Theses. William & Mary. Paper 1913.
On-Campus Access Only