After World War I, colonial administrative policy, environmental necessity, and economic logic converged to promote Vietnamese migration to meet plantation demands for labor. Peasants from the Tonkin delta travelled by ship and by road to southern plantations, where they sometimes displaced previous inhabitants. These workers helped carry out the deforestation that created the limpid, sunny streams in which mosquito species associated with malaria in the region bred. Malaria, beriberi, and horrible living conditions resulted in the illness and deaths of thousands of plantation workers. These outbreaks, along with the more famous cases of abuse, provided much fodder for opponents of colonialism, French and Vietnamese alike. Even as medical doctors recognized the poor health of plantation workers, they found it more plausible to blame workers’ moral failings and culture rather than the colonial system. By placing the human suffering of laborers in the context of changing disease environments, chapter 3 further investigates the relationships among science, business, and government. Industry played a key role in creating medical institutions and knowledge in Indochina during the colonial period and, partly because of this role, economic concerns trumped humanitarian impulses.
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