The Socio-Material History of Masked Societies in East Asia: A Virtual Workshop

11:00 - 13:30 Uhr

With the COVID-19 outbreak, the interest in the mask-wearing culture of the “East” has been renewed. American and European media outlets portray East Asian countries as “masked societies” that have already used sanitary masks before the Corona pandemic. As Japan historian Andrew Gordon points out, this type of commentaries tends to present mask-wearing as a “cultural norm” in East Asia and is grounded in unproved cultural essentialism that ignores its long global history. As a way of avoiding the pitfall of cultural essentialism, this workshop focuses on the socio-material dimensions of the history of mask-wearing in East Asia. Speakers look into the use and circulation of masks across national borders between East Asian countries and different social worlds within the countries. The shift of focus allows us to look at how the mask use is closely linked to heterogeneous but interconnected entanglements of environmental histories, political movements, scientific controversies, risk cultures, environmental governances, and quarantine regimes in those countries. Speakers:

  • Chia-Ling Wu (Department of Sociology, National Taiwan University)
  • Heewon Kim (Graduate School of Science, Technology, and Policy, Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology)
  • Hyungsub Choi (School of Liberal Arts, Seoul National University of Science and Technology)
  • Jaehwan Hyun (Department III, Max-Planck Institute for the History of Science; Institute of General Education, Pusan National University)
  • Meng Zhang (School of Health Humanities, Peking University)
  • Sean Hsiang-Lin Lei (The Institute of Modern History, Academia Sinica)
  • Shi-Lin Loh (Department of History, National University of Singapore)
  • Tomohisa Sumida (Graduate School of Human Relations, Keio University)
  • Akihisa Setoguchi (Institute for Research in Humanities, Kyoto University)
  • Mary Augusta Brazelton (Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge)


  • 11:00-11:05 Welcome Remarks
  • 11:05-11:10 Introduction
  • 11:10-12:05 Session 1. Interconnected Histories of Masks
    • Tomohisa Sumida, "Western Origins of Japanese Masks: The 1898 German Plague Conference and the First Mask Directive in Yokohama."
    • Sean Hisang-Lin Lei, ""Not Knowing a Plague Could Be Contagious:" The Manchurian Plague (1910-11) and a Historical Controversy over Masks."
    • Meng Zhang, "Face Masks in Modern Shanghai: A Gendered History."
    • Mary Augusta Brazelton: Discussion
  • 12:05-12:10 Break
  • 12:10-13:05 Session 2. The Contemporary Life of Masks
    • Shi Li Lin, "Masks and Pandemic Governance in Singapore."
    • Chia-ling Wu, "Masks in Post-SARS Taiwan."
    • Hyungsub Choi and Heewon Kim, "The Everyday Life of Masks in South Korea."
    • Setoguchi Akihisa: Discussion
  • 13:05-13:10 Break
  • 13:10-13:30 Roundtable
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