Elisheva A. Perelman
's new book American Evangelists and Tuberculosis in Modern Japan
(Hong Kong University Press, 2020) examines the consequences of Japan’s decision not to tackle the tuberculosis epidemic that ravaged the country during the last quarter of the nineteenth century and the first quarter of the twentieth. TB was a plague of epic proportions in industrializing Japan, particularly affecting young women workers in the new textile factories. These marginalized laborers, many from rural villages, were not a priority for Japan’s first modern administrations, who focused their energies elsewhere and left the welfare of tuberculosis patients to the private sector. The opening left by this choice was filled by American evangelicals, who saw an opportunity to advance their missionary work in Japan.
Perelman identifies a kind of twinned moral entrepreneurship, arguing that a tacit agreement was hammered out between the two sides, with the government accepting the evangelical groups’ assistance with this public health emergency in exchange for noninterference in their efforts to spread Christianity. The history of TB in Japan is well studied and understood, but American Evangelists and Tuberculosis in Modern Japan breathes new life into this old story by its attention to different actors and dynamics. It will be of interest not only to scholars of Japanese and East Asian history and culture, but also to historians of science, medicine and public health, and Christianity.