New publication: Wu Dingliang (1894–1969) and the Statistical Definition of the Chinese Race

A hand-dynamometer from Wu Dingliang's collection
A hand-dynamometer from Wu Dingliang's collection (Zhejiang University Archives)

A new publication by Prof. Dr. Andrea Bréard with the title “Wu Dingliang (1894–1969) and the Statistical Definition of the Chinese Race” appeared in the journal Histoire & Mesure XXXVII-1 (EHESS, 2022). By focusing upon the scientific work and network of Wu Dingliang 吳定良, this article looks at the statistical construction of a notion of the Chinese race and complements the history of Karl Pearson’s (1857–1936) Biometric Laboratory in London, a history which has overlooked the circulation and nationally contoured fate of biometric knowledge and approaches to the notion of “race” on a more global scale, including China. In two parts, the article follows chronologically the intellectual and institutional international trajectory of Wu Dingliang until the advent of the People’s Republic of China. The boundaries of both parts of the article are defined not only by a specific timeframe—before and after 1934—but also by different sites of knowledge—the Biometric Laboratory in London and the Academia Sinica in Nanjing—and finally also by different kinds of data. As Bréard goes along Wu’s path, weaving together these three parameters of Wu’s trajectory—time, place, and data—mainly through his publications, Chinese sources and some unpublished material, she argues that the emergence of a new statistical notion of “race” was much more data-bound than politically defined before 1949, even if the results of Wu’s racial classification work were interpreted in the contemporary local political contexts.