Physicians and scientists dominated the first generation of nationalists in at least three East Asian colonies in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries: the Philippines under the Spanish and United States' regimes, the Dutch East Indies, and the Japanese territory of Taiwan. There is substantial evidence that, in each place, decolonization was yoked to scientific progress—not only in a practical sense, but symbolically too. The first generation to receive training in biological science and to become socialized as professionals used this education to imagine itself as eminently modern, progressive, and cosmopolitan. Their training gave them special authority in deploying organic metaphors of society and state, and made them deft in finding allegories of the human body and the body politic. These scientists and physicians saw themselves as representing universal laws, advancing natural knowledge, and engaging as equals with colleagues in Europe, Japan, and North America. Science gave them a new platform for communication. In the British Empire, for example in India and Malaya, medical science also proved influential, though it seems lawyers cognizant of precedent and tradition more often dominated decolonization movements. This essay will examine how scientific training shaped anti-colonialism and nationalism in the Philippines and the East Indies, concluding with a brief comparison of the situation in Taiwan.
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