The Exponent of Breath: How Foreign Evangelical Organizations Utilized a Public Health Lacuna in Japan for Their Own Benefit

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Arts and Humanities | Asian History | Health Policy | History | History of Religion | Public Affairs, Public Policy and Public Administration | Social and Behavioral Sciences


Tuberculosis existed in Japan long before the arrival of the first medical missionaries, and it would survive them all. Still, the epidemic during the period from 1890 until the 1920s proved salient because of the questions it answered. This paper analyzes how, through the actions of the government, scientists, foreign evangelical leaders, and the tubercular themselves, a nation defined itself and its obligations to its subjects scientifically, and how foreign evangelical organizations, including the Young Men's Christian Association (the Y.M.C.A.) and The Salvation Army, sought to utilize, as much as to assist, those in their care. With both Japanese government officials and foreign evangelical leaders employing moral entrepreneurism in their approach to the victims of the nation's epidemic, the tubercular became pawns in the relationships between the Meiji and Taishō governments, the Y.M.C.A., The Salvation Army, St. Luke's Hospital, and the Omi Mission. Within this analytical framework, this paper also examines such issues as how Protestantism allowed some of the disease's victims to withstand societal stigma, and how its proponents viewed their obligation to their fellow man; how concepts of public health changed when faced with a disease with no known cure, and how much of the attempts to respond to the disease fell victim to partisan politics and personality disputes; how gender affected national, societal, and religious rights, and how disease affected perceptions of gendered behavior. Finally, this work analyzes how the value of human life was parsed and differentiated medically, particularly vis-à-vis utility to both the Japanese nation and the state of Protestantism in the early 20th century.