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Scientising Relief: Nutritional Activism from Shanghai to the Southwest, 1937–1945

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image of European Journal of East Asian Studies

The Shanghai Refugee Children Nutritional Aid Committee, formed in 1937, sought to improve refugee children’s nutritional health by making and distributing a scientifically tested soybean milk and soybean cakes. By 1942, the Committee had adopted a national platform and changed its moniker to the Chinese Nutritional Aid Council, with plans to open offices and nutrition clinics in Chongqing, Chengdu, Guiyang and Kunming. This paper argues that in linking biomedical understandings of nutrition with social change, this group of Western-trained physicians and young female social workers enacted a new kind of social activism, one which seized upon the food-as-fuel idea and staked the welfare of the nation upon the nutritional health of its citizenry. In contrast to earlier social relief projects promoted by the imperial state and the local philanthropic initiatives of gentry elites, the Chinese Nutritional Aid Committee articulated an image of professional and specialised expertise in the science of nutrition and care. Theirs was a project of modern refashioning in which science played a key and foundational role in crafting their understanding of both relief and the children they aimed to save.

Affiliations: 1: Case Western Reserve University


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