Historicizing Taiwan’s Role in Global Health: from Colonial Period to Post-Covid Times

Monday 7 November at University of Helsinki and Tuesday 8 November at University of Turku. The above recording was made at University of Turku.

Entering the post-pandemic era, historians of medicine have found themselves much more critcal in informing current global health theories and practices. For example, Cueto et al. (2019) have recently examined political and historical processes of the World Health Organization, in which international organizations discovered their role caught up within shifting power of international relations. Charters et al. (2021) proposed to study environmental, societal, historical, logistical, and diplomatic factors countering the conventional linear narrative of pandemics. More recently, the field of Global Health Humanities (Hassan et al., 2022) have surfaced to invite more disciplinary approaches to examine how developing knowledge of health and diseases are impacted by various global health priorities, social systems and cultural expectations. In this presentation, I draw examples from my previous research to position Taiwan in these emerging critics. These examples include Taiwan’s function in Japan’s colonial health governance, its arm’s-length participation in the World Health Organization after World War II, its decades-long tradition in health diplomacy, and its efforts to demonstrate healthcare capacity along the newly fangled New Southbound Policy. I offer different perspectives to reappraise Taiwan’s role in the history of global health against the backdrop of disorganized world order and the tortuous East Asian geopolitics. Such understanding will become pivotal for global health practitioners in “the world” to outstrip their constrained imagination about Taiwan, and for those from Taiwan to contribute to the global effort to alleviate human suffering.

About the speaker: 

Harry Yi-Jui Wu is a historian of medicine. He was trained in medicine in Taiwan before obtaining DPhil in modern history at the University of Oxford in 2012. His research projects mainly focus on the transnational histories of mental health. Harry’s first book, Mad by the Millions: Mental Disorders and the Early Years of the World Health Organization, was published by MIT Press in 2021. Before becoming Associate Professor at National Cheng Kung University, he taught at Nanyang Technological University and the University of Hong Kong between 2013 and 2021, where he convened medical humanities programs for two schools of medicine. In 2020, he was elected Early Career Fellow of Hong Kong Academy of Humanities. Currently, he is jointly appointed by the Cross College Elite Program and the Department of Medical Humanities & Social Medicine at NCKU. Besides, he is Co-Editor of the Journal of Social History of Medicine.