MPIWG Institute's Colloquium: Debating “Scientific Warfare” in Republican China

Dora Vargha Announcement
Subject Fields
Asian History / Studies, Chinese History / Studies, Diplomacy and International Relations, History of Science, Medicine, and Technology, World History / Studies

The next instalment of the Max Planck Institute’s Colloquium 'Science Diplomacy and Science in Times of War' will be on March 14, 14:00 CET, Nicholas Schillinger (University of Duisburg-Essen, Institute of East Asian Studies) will present Debating “Scientific Warfare” in Republican China. Please see the abstract for the talk below. 

Please do join us in person if you can. For online participation, please register at and we will send you the updated zoom link for the event. 

All are welcome to attend either in-person and online.

We look forward to seeing you there!

Best wishes, 


The Institute's Colloquium 2022–23 Committee


In the 1930s and 40s, modernizing elites in China demanded to “scientize” (hexuehua 科學化) Chinese society in every regard, which included a science-based education in schools, policies against superstition, the funding of research, and the promotion of hygiene and biomedicine. This discourse also affected the military sphere and, together with similar debates in Europe, produced the notion that future wars would be “scientific wars” (kexue zhanzheng 科學戰爭). The ubiquitous term (which can also be translated as “scientific warfare”) usually referred to the application of natural and life sciences for military purposes and the use of scientific knowledge to create and improve military technology. It appeared in the context of tanks and military aviation, chemical and biological weapons, or futuristic visions about remotely controlled drones, death rays, highly contagious germs, or other science fantasies. This paper explores the role attributed to scientific research in the military and for conducting warfare, and how the idea of “scientific warfare” concerned the participation of scientists in military affairs in China during the Republican era (1927–1949). It shows how the link between science, war, and the military prior, during, and shortly after the Second World War had a strong effect on the general view and acceptance of science in China. 


Nicolas Schillinger is a cultural historian, specializing in the history of science and the history of masculinity in nineteenth and twentieth century China. He is currently a postdoctoral member of the research group “Sinology – Algorithms, Prognostics, Statistics” (Sin-aps) at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, working on a book project tentatively entitled Scientizing an Army–Military Medicine and Life Sciences in Republican China. Nicolas received his Ph.D. from Heidelberg University, where he was a member of the Cluster Asia and Europe in a Global Context. Prior to joining the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, he was a visiting professor at Free University of Berlin. His research and teaching interests also include the history of the Qing dynasty, Republican China, China during the Cold War, the body, medicine, graphic novels, and the military. His first book, The Body and Military Masculinity in Late Qing and Early Republican China: The Art of Governing Soldiers, deals with military reforms and its cultural, social, and political consequences as well as the transformation of masculinity concepts in China between 1895 and 1916. 

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