Wei-ti Chen: Cosmopolitan Medicine Nationalized: The Making of Japanese State-Empire and Overseas Physicians in a Global World

My on-going book project, “Cosmopolitan Medicine Nationalized: the Making of Japanese State-Empire and Overseas Physicians in a Global World”, examines the transnational migration of medical doctors within the Japanese empire (1868-1945). The central concern of this study is the connection between the movement of physicians and the demarcation of Japan at a time of globalization: How did Japan (re-)define its national and imperial boundaries by regulating who was fit to practice medicine, under what conditions, and where. I argue that the regulation of foreign-trained doctors was an essential means of Japan to demonstrate its equal sovereignty with western countries to the international society. I explore the empire’s creation of a hierarchical medical profession through the design of the medical licensing system, which encouraged Japanese doctors to practice in the colonies while impeding the overseas career opportunities of colonial Taiwanese and Korean doctors. I also discuss how, despite the institutional obstacles, the colonial youths used medical migration as a method to improve their inferior civic status and pursue upward social mobility within the Japanese empire. This research is based on extensive reading of government archives, medical periodicals, and accounts of numerous migrant physicians, including foreign doctors in Japan, overseas Japanese physicians, and Japan’s colonial subjects who studied and/or practiced medicine in other parts of the empire. This work has been funded by the University of Chicago, Harvard University, Hosei University (in Japan), and Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation (in Taiwan).

Wei-ti Chen is a historian of the Japanese empire, with a focus on medicine, migration, and transnational history. She received her PhD from the University of Chicago and is currently a visiting assistant professor in the history department at the College of Charleston, the United States. Before this, she was a postdoctoral research fellow at Harvard University. She has published several articles and oral history accounts on the migration of physicians in the Japanese empire and presented her works at international symposiums including the annual conferences of the Association for Asian Studies.


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