2016 New History
P. O. Box 1-44, Nankang, Taipei 11529, Taiwan, R. O. C.
02-2782-9555 # 226

From Valuable Medicine to Ordinary Wood:
the Biography of Cinchona and Quinine in Taiwan, 1930-1960

Ya-wen Ku

Institute of Taiwan History, Academia Sinica

Since the early 1930s, cinchona was widely cultivated in colonial Taiwan as a valuable medicine for treating malaria; thirty years later, however, it became just an ordinary wood as its commodity value was lost. To understand the processes of cinchona and quinine’s commoditization and de-commoditization, previous studies have simply connected their production with the local demand for malaria treatment, and the stop of production with the global progress in the manufacture of synthetic drugs. But these accounts ignored that cinchona’s large-scale cultivation in Taiwan in fact began when synthetic anti-malaria drugs were already developed and the limitations of quinine demonstrated, and ended while malaria was still a serious problem in the island. This article thus aims to reconsider the “biography” of cinchona and quinine from 1930 to 1960 by borrowing the concept from material culture studies. Examining the trajectories from production to consumption in different temporal and spatial contexts helps us to understand how their meaning and value were constructed: they were viewed as a weapon of the Japanese Empire from 1930 to 1945, a hope for saving Chinese people’s weakness between 1945 and 1949, and a specific symbolic resource for Taiwan to reconquer the mainland after 1949. Not until the 1960s, when the government shifted its emphasis from the military to the political, did cinchona and quinine thoroughly lose their status. In other words, their meaning and value, as well as the boundaries of commoditization, were redefined again and again in the changing political situation in Taiwan.


Keywords: Quinine, Cinchona, Construction of Meaning and Value, Social Life of Things, Material Culture