This page was created by Michitake Aso.  The last update was by Kandra Polatis.

Bodies and Structures 2.0: Deep-Mapping Modern East Asian History

Invasions in the Sinosphere

During the Cold War, what was a biological invasion and how it would happen were questions that caused anxiety and fear. This type of warfare involved the intentional use of microbes, and the living and non-living vectors that carry them, to weaken or kill humans considered enemies. In the context of total war, biological warfare was also directed at the animals and plants that helped sustain those people. And by ending stories, biological warfare could, no less than the firebombing of Tokyo analyzed by David Fedman, annihilate place.

The fear of invasion has been explored in the US context but less so for other societies, especially in the “Third World,” which was the site of so many types of invasions. Traditional understandings of invasions, or unwanted border crossings, in Vietnamese society have revolved around humans including Mongols, Chinese, and French armies. But biological warfare techniques developed in the twentieth century meant that non-human nature, and the environment itself, could become an invasive threat. Việt Minh medical doctors and cadre became concerned about insidious invasions that would go undetected until after it was too late to resist them and they had to grapple with several questions:

What were the geographies of invasion? At what scale could they happen? What would an invasion look like? How could an invasion be differentiated from “natural” processes? Who, and what, would invade? How, in short, could invasions be mapped? And then, perhaps most importantly, how could these invasions be stopped?

In order to start to answer these questions, the Việt Minh drew on, and modified, existing spatial imaginaries. After 1949 and the victory of the communists in China, Việt Minh leaders envisioned Vietnam rejoining a recreated Sinosphere world, this time linked not by Confucian culture but by communist party rule. In this Sinosphere world, a newly established PRC was at the center (though peripheral to the Soviet Union), with parts of Vietnam and Korea joined to this world. By the early 1950s, Japan and South Korea were under US control, and thus out of the communist Sinosphere. Not surprisingly, the Việt Minh turned to Chinese investigations in order to better understand potential biological warfare in Northern Vietnam. In addition to Vietnamese medical doctors and students traveling to China for study, the PRC held a conference in Beijing to present the evidence of US biological warfare in North Korea and Northeast China.

If you are unfamiliar with the historical geographies of East and Southeast Asia, you may wish to explore a side path on cartographic maps of Northern Vietnam. Otherwise, you can continue on the main path about biological warfare during the Korean War.

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