The Rise of Mask-Wearing in Republican China: Colonialism, Epidemics, and Issues of Governance (1912-1949)


  • Dr Meng Zhang

    University of Manchester

Project summary

Why is compulsory face-covering so widely accepted in China during the current COVID-19 pandemic while it is the focus of such controversy in the west? From the perspective of the Chinese government today, this phenomenon stems from the ingenuity of Chinese invention and is an achievement of the Chinese regime's effort in epidemic control. This project argues this is a modern myth and instead claims that mask-wearing's authoritative position in epidemic control was formed during the Republican period of semi-colonial China (1912-1949) through the influence of foreign powers and internal political forces. It asks, 'How did British and Japanese colonialism, and China's domestic politics, contribute to masks' authoritative position in semi-colonial China?' To answer this central question, the project studies chronologically how the British and Japanese Empires, and China's Nationalist and Communist Parties promoted mask-wearing as a form of epidemic control.