Speaker: Ruth Rogaski, Vanderbilt University
In December of 1957, a medical delegation from the People’s Republic of China visited Japan as part of a decade-long series of semi-official cultural exchanges between the two former enemies. The delegation brought back a “Nakatani Ryōdōraku electrodermometer”—a scientific apparatus which, according to its inventor, Nakatani Yoshio, could be used to demonstrate an electromagnetic phenomenon on the surface of the human body that was remarkably similar to the meridians of Chinese medicine. My paper uses this episode of medical mobility to explore the role of machines in attempts to establish the ontological basis for Chinese medicine in twentieth century East Asia.
Probing the “electrical genealogy” of the Nakatani machine in Japan since the Meiji period illuminates how Japanese physicians pursued the scientific underpinnings of traditional medical concepts by creatively employing trends in European and Russian physiological research. While most Sino-Japanese exchanges around the modernization of traditional medicine were interrupted by the war (although some practitioners sought medical unity through empire in the 1930s and 40s), medical exchanges were renewed surprisingly quickly in the 1950s. Chinese translations of Japanese texts about the biological basis of acupuncture entered into ongoing PRC debates about the nature of meridians– debates that had emerged in China in the 1930s and continued in the politically complex era of medical reform in the 1950s. The arrival of the Nakatani machine highlighted the schisms among Chinese physicians regarding the role of science and classical theories in modernizing Chinese medicine. In conclusion, the paper examines the continuing use of the Ryōdōraku machine (and similar devices) in acupuncture practice today, and considers the century-long desire to visualize the invisible in Chinese medicine.