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

Learning From China and North Korea

The Việt Minh were careful observers of the Korean War (1950-1953). The Việt Minh quickly understood the implications when the North Koreans and Chinese charged the United Nations military, led by the United States, of using biological weapons. In December 1952 and January 1953, Việt Minh representatives attended a series of lectures and an exhibition where they learned the specifics of biological weapons use in Chinese and North Korea. You’ve read a simplified version of this information in the pamphlet in Path 1 but the reports collected at this time were extremely detailed and the transcripts and summaries run to over 200 pages.

Chinese scientists and medical doctors emphasized the need for careful research and laid out three reasons they suspected the US of using germ warfare:

  1. Diseases that broke out were new to area and time of year;
  2. Unusual insects and materials served as vectors;
  3. Outbreaks happened after US airplanes flew by.

They also pointed to the context of the US biological weapons program and borrowed the term “bacteriology upside down” from Theodore Rosebury, a key player in start of US biological weapons program and later published a warning about them. Finally, these reports argue that patriotic hygiene mass movement was a good way to counter effects of biological warfare. All of these themes were picked up by the Việt Minh in their own investigations (NAV3 BYT 5402).

Explore the NIH posters shown above and compare them to the Việt Minh images that were used to educate Vietnamese about the use of biological weapons and how to resist them. While these posters emphasize human diseases, pathogens and pests attacking agricultural production were an equal concern for the Chinese, North Koreans, and Việt Minh.

Tôn Thất Tùng was again a key player as he traveled to China and North Korea in July 1951 with Hoàng Quốc Việt. Tùng arrived in Peking (Beijing) on 28 July and proceeded to carry out both political and medical exchanges. Tùng next visited the Democratic Republic of Korea. In August 1951, the fighting on the Korean peninsula was intense and Tùng witnessed the regular bombings of Pyongyang. He noted in his diary how the residents of Pyongyang had come to know the schedule of what he called 'American' bombs. Tùng's observations of life in North Korea were eerily similar to later accounts of life in Hanoi during the US bombings of the 1960s. Tùng left at the end of 1951 before the charges of US germ warfare and his training as a surgeon would not have shed much light on biological weapons. He did, however, serve as the chair at the first meeting of the Committee to Prevent Germs (Ban Chống Trùng) held from September 12 through 16, 1952.

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