Jean-Jacques Matignon's Legacy on Russian Plague Research in North-East China and Inner Asia(1898-1910)

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This paper examines the legacy of the 1896 Selenga Valley Expedition led by the French doctor Jean-Jacques Matignon on Russian research on bubonic plague in the decade preceding the great Manchurian plague epidemic of 1910-1911. With particular focus on Danilo Kirilovich Zabolotny’s expedition to Weichang (1898) and Ivan Stepanovich Dudchenko-Kolbashenko’s expedition to Mongolia and Transbaikalia (1907-1908), the paper will examine how Matignon’s hypothesis that plague was not endemic in the region but rather imported from South China on the back of so-called ‘coolies’was subsequently entwined with the Russian hypothesis of a zoonotic origin of plague, focused on Siberian marmots (tarbagan) as the endemic vector of the disease in Inner Asia. The paper will explore the role of Russian medical ethnography in forging a paradoxical hybrid between the two hypotheses, with Lamaism assuming a prominent role in forging a transregional model of bubonic plague. This was based on the mistaken assumption that marmots feed on sky-burial corpses of infected pilgrims and traders, hence proposing that it was humans who infected marmots with the disease, rather than the other way around.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)61-89
JournalExtrême-Orient Extrême-Occident
Publication statusPublished - 2014


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