Medicinal Animals and Asia: Faunal Medicalization in an Era of Mass Extinction and Zoonotic Disease

Valerie  Yeo's picture
Call for Papers
May 11, 2023 to May 12, 2023
Subject Fields: 
Animal Studies, History of Science, Medicine, and Technology, Public Health


Medicinal Animals and Asia: Faunal Medicalization in an Era of Mass Extinction and Zoonotic Disease
Date:11-12 May 2023
Venue: Hybrid (National University of Singapore & Online via Zoom)

Animal parts and tissues have been used traditionally around the world as medicines as well as foods. Yet the incorporation of animals into medical systems based largely on plants is an historical process we still know comparatively little about, even in Asia, where the practice has been widespread.  In the present day, most “medicinal animals” are in crisis, the subject of illegal and legal wildlife trading, driving many to the brink of extinction [Still, 2003; Symes et al, 2018 a&b; Van Uhm, 2016]. The process of “faunal medicalization” [Chee, 2021] has also been implicated in the spread of zoonotic disease, even while being promoted in some quarters as a cure. Understanding the historical and contemporary forces that have brought us to this juncture is the subject of this conference.  We are particularly focusing on Asia as both a site and a global influence. As a site, certain Asian “traditional” medicines have transformed into “Asian industrial medicines” [Pordie and Hardon, 2015; Kloos and Blaikie, 2022], with animal parts and tissues becoming raw materials for a growing pharmaceuticalization of traditional zootherapies. As an influence, Asian-centered animal trading networks now have global reach, and are likely affecting or inter-mingling with pharmaceutics and zootherapies in other parts of the world. We are thus open to accepting papers that address cases in Asia, or cases elsewhere in the world with strong connections to Asia or Asian cultures. We are particularly looking for papers that are historically-informed, but help to understand and contextualize the current crisis; that work against anthropocentric bias by valuing animal survival and health in its own right; that highlight connections or disruptions in use or scale between pre-modern and modern uses of animals as medicines; that discuss how Asian faunal medicalization practices have affected species and practices across or outside Asian nation-states; and/or that explore junctions between wildlife conservation, animal medicines, and consumerism.

The organizers are historians, anthropologists, and philosophers, but we will accept papers written from a variety of disciplinary perspectives.  Papers should be empirically-based, however, and publishable within the special issue of a top-tier humanities or social science-based journal. Note that this is a workshop, with publication as its goal. Previously published papers or papers destined for publications elsewhere cannot be accepted. 

This workshop is part of the project “History and Sustainability of Animal-Based Drugs in Asian Traditional Medicines” funded by a Tier 2 grant from the Singapore Ministry of Education (Gregory Clancey, PI; Liz P.Y. Chee, Co-PI).

The workshop will take place at the Asia Research Institute in Singapore, and selected delegates will be funded for travel, hotel, and some meal expenses. The delivery of papers via zoom is also possible for those unable to travel to Singapore. 


To participate, please send your paper proposal, which should include a title, an abstract (300-500 words, exclusive of notes), bio note (150-200 words) and a cv to Ms Valerie Yeo at by 31 January 2023. Successful applicants will be notified by mid-February 2023. Questions regarding the theme or subject of the workshop (as opposed to administration details) should be directed to Mr Jason Ng at

Panel presenters will be required to submit preliminary drafts of papers (2,000-3,000) words by 1 May 2023. These drafts will be circulated to fellow panelists and discussants in advance. Drafts need not be fully polished. Indeed, we expect that presenters will be open to feedback from fellow participants.


Dr Liz P.Y. Chee | Senior Research Fellow, Asia Research Institute, NUS
Dr Kathryn Muyskens | Research Fellow, Asia Research Institute, NUS
Dr Elizabeth Elliot | Post-Doctoral Fellow, Asia Research Institute, NUS
A/P Gregory Clancey | Associate Professor, Department of History and Asia Research Institute, NUS

Chee, Liz P.Y. (2021). Mao’s Bestiary: Medicinal Animals and Modern China (Durham, NC: Duke University Press)
Kloos, Stefan and Calum Blaikie, eds, (2022). Asian Medical Industries: Contemporary Perspectives on Traditional Pharmaceuticals (London: Routledge)
Pordie, Laurent and Anita Hardon (2015). “Drugs’ Stories and Itineraries: On the Making of Asian Industrial Medicines”, Anthropology and Medicine 22 (1): 1-6
Still, J. (2003). Use of Animal Products in Traditional Chinese Medicine: Environmental Impact and Health Hazards. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 11, 118–122.
Symes, William S., David P. Edwards, Jukka Miettinen, Frank E. Rheindt, and L. Roman Carrasco (2018a) Combined Impacts of Deforestation and Wildlife Trade on Tropical Biodiversity are Severely Underestimated. Nature Communications 9 (4052)
Symes, William S., Francesca L. McGrath, Madhu Rao, and L. Roman Carrasco (2018b) The Gravity of Wildlife Trade. Biological Conservation 218: 268-276
Van Uhm, Dann (2016) The Illegal Wildlife Trade: Inside the World of Poachers, Smugglers and Traders (Studies of Organized Crime) (New York: Springer)


Contact Info: 

Valerie Yeo
Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore

Contact Email: