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


The Việt Minh viewed education and propaganda as another key to countering biological warfare. Starting in the 1950s, they published several pamphlets and booklets on the subject, ranging from histories of biological weapons to manuals for medical doctors on how to deal with germs, insects, and other threats. Copies of several of these publications are still held in the Vietnam National Library. In addition to circulating printed material, there were no doubt word-of-mouth campaigns.

To the right is the cover of one undated educational pamphlet about biological warfare in Korea and China published by the military medical corps of the Việt Minh (Nhân Dân Triều Trung Chiến Thắng Chiến Tranh vi Trùng, 19??).

Who seems to have been the audience(s) for this pamphlet? What languages does it contain? What kinds of images?

The pamphlet shows the imagined geography of imperialist and non-imperialist nations and their relationship to invasion. In the lower right of the panel, a man who represents imperialist enemies seems to be on the run. Next to him is a bomb buried in the ground with insects and bugs escaping from it. In the upper right, two airplanes appear to be streaking downwards, black smoke trailing from them. On the left, a syringe and a bayonet blade are pointed menacingly at the imperialist, his bomb, and his airplanes. These tools, of medicine and the military, protect factories and grain harvests below. Thus, the Chinese and North Korean people were, as the title of the pamphlet proclaims, able to defeat imperialists germ warfare.

Even though the Việt Minh quietly shelved their charges of germ warfare against the French, this pamphlet offers insights into the fears of biological warfare circulating among intellectuals and elites and to a lesser degree the broader populace. As Shellen Wu notes in her discussion of Xing An in the early twentieth century, the “educated elite from around the world increasingly spoke a common language of science and the social sciences.” The Việt Minh, and their medical cadre including Tôn Thất Tùng, spoke such a language to popularize knowledge about environmental warfare among both commoners and elite and to convince them of the threat of biological invasions. This pamphlet drew on information obtained at the end of 1952 and the beginning of 1953 in China. You can scroll over the title page for a translation and consider how the pamphlet's content reflected similar themes to those on Chinese propaganda posters from the Korean War.

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