Eugenics in China and Hong Kong: Nationalism and Colonialism, 1890s–1940s

Yuehtsen Juliette Chung

in The Oxford Handbook of the History of Eugenics

Published in print September 2010 | ISBN: 9780195373141
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

Eugenics in China and Hong Kong: Nationalism and Colonialism, 1890s–1940s


Eugenics became an important element in Chinese political reforms allowing a critique of imperialist encroachment while offering a program for improving and strengthening the nation. This article considers the appropriation of Lamarckism as a series of ideas emphasizing environmental factors, which could thus be used to develop social control projects based on the inheritance of acquired characteristics. It discusses the incorporation of eugenic ideas into social hygiene and the use of eugenics to promote birth control supported as a practical solution to the unsolved problems of ongoing female child slavery and the customs of infanticide and abandonment of baby girls and disabled children. The rhetoric of sanitation—already an issue in Britain—became a focal point of discourse as Westerners traveled and lived in China. Finally, the article concludes with the discussion of the discourse on national character in Hong Kong legitimated the British racial hierarchical view of Chinese, while in China it worked as a mechanism of self-criticism.

Keywords: eugenics; Lamarckism; Hong Kong; China; imperialist

Article.  7707 words. 

Subjects: History ; Asian History

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