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American Crossroads #07: Contagious Divides: Epidemics and Race in San Francisco's Chinatownby Nayan Shah
Synopses & Reviews
Contagious Divides charts the dynamic transformation of representations of Chinese immigrants from medical menace in the nineteenth century to model citizen in the mid-twentieth century. Examining the cultural politics of public health and Chinese immigration in San Francisco, this book looks at the history of racial formation in the U.S. by focusing on the development of public health bureaucracies.
Nayan Shah notes how the production of Chinese difference and white, heterosexual norms in public health policy affected social lives, politics, and cultural expression. Public health authorities depicted Chinese immigrants as filthy and diseased, as the carriers of such incurable afflictions as smallpox, syphilis, and bubonic plague. This resulted in the vociferous enforcement of sanitary regulations on the Chinese community. But the authorities did more than demon-ize the Chinese; they also marshaled civic resources that promoted sewer construction, vaccination programs, and public health management.
Shah shows how Chinese Americans responded to health regulations and allegations with persuasive political speeches, lawsuits, boycotts, violent protests, and poems. Chinese American activists drew upon public health strategies in their advocacy for health services and public housing. Adroitly employing discourses of race and health, these activists argued that Chinese Americans were worthy and deserving of sharing in the resources of American society.
"Nayan Shah has written a book of exceptional originality and importance. With a focus on issues of body, family, and home, central concerns of urban health reform, he illuminates the role of political leaders, public opinion, and professionals in the construction and reconstruction of race and the making of citizens in San Francisco. He brilliantly analyzes the politics of the movement from exclusion to inclusion, regulation to entitlement, showing it to be an interactive process. Yet, as he shows with great subtlety, the mark of race remains. As a study of citizenship and difference, this work speaks to a central theme of American history."—Thomas Bender, Director of the International Center for Advanced Studies at NYU, and editor of Rethinking American History in a Global Age
Contagious Divides is an ambitious contribution to our understanding of the troubled history of race in America. Nayan Shah offers new insight into the ways that race was inscribed on the streets, the bodies, and the institutions of San Francisco's Chinatown. Above all, he offers powerful examples of the impact of ideas about disease, sexuality, and place on the rhetoric and practice of racial inequality in modern America.—Thomas J. Sugrue, author of The Origins of the Urban Crisis
A sophisticated history of efforts to control epidemics in San Francisco's Chinatown, revealing how the interventions of public health officials helped to define the Asian American community as diseased and abnormal. The author charts how Asian Americans then struggled against this image, working to become model citizens in the eyes of the modern state.
Includes bibliographical references (p. 259-366) and index.
About the Author
Nayan Shah is Associate Professor of History at the University of California, San Diego.
Table of Contents
List of Illustrations
Introduction: Public Health, Race, and Citizenship
1. Public Health and the Mapping of Chinatown
2. Regulating Bodies and Space
3. Perversity, Contamination, and the Dangers of Queer Domesticity
4. White Women, Hygiene and the Struggle for Respectable Domesticity
5. Plague and Managing the Commercial City
6. White Labor and the American Standard of Living
7. Making Medical Borders at Angel Island
8. Healthy Spaces, Healthy Conduct
9. Reforming Chinatown
Conclusion: Norms as a Way of Life
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