In modern Japan, beriberi (or thiamin deficiency) became a public health problem that cut across all social boundaries, afflicting even the Meiji Emperor. During an age of empire building for the Japanese nation, incidence rates in the military ranged from 30 percent in peacetime to 90 percent during war. Doctors and public health officials called beriberi a "national disease" because it festered within the bodies of the people and threatened the health of the empire. Nevertheless, they could not agree over what caused the disease, attributing it to a diet deficiency or a microbe.
In The Beriberi in Modern Japan, Alexander R. Bay examines the debates over the etiology of this "national disease" during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Etiological consensus came after World War I, but the struggle at the national level to direct beriberi prevention continued, peaking during wartime mobilization. War served as the context within which scientific knowledge of beriberi and its prevention was made. The story of beriberi research is not simply about the march toward the inevitable discovery of "the beriberi vitamin," but rather the history of the role of medicine in state-making and empire-building in modern Japan.
Alexander Bay is assistant professor of history at Chapman University.
First Published: 15 Dec 2012
13 Digit ISBN: 9781580464277
Size: 9 x 6
Imprint: University of Rochester Press
Series: Rochester Studies in Medical History
Subject: History of Science & Medicine
BIC Class: MBX
Details updated on 11 Dec 2013
- 1 Introduction: Medicine, Power, and the Rhetoric of Empire
- 2 The Geography of Affliction: Beriberi in Edo and Tokyo
- 3 Putting the Laboratory at the Center
- 4 Beriberi: Disease of Imperial Culture
- 5 Empire and the Making of a National Disease
- 6 The Science of Vitamins and the Construction of Ignorance
- 7 The Rice Germ Debate: Total Mobilization and the Science of Vitamins in the 1930s