Colonial Research on Public Hygiene and its Postcolonial Legacy: Focusing on Hygiene Laboratory in Colonial Korea

Uisahak. 2022 Aug;31(2):429-466. doi: 10.13081/kjmh.2022.31.429.


Previous studies on the history of Korean public health have shown that the public hygiene system in Korea under Japan's colonial rule relied heavily on the sanitary police, whose lack of expertise in hygiene reinforced the coercion and violence of the colonial public hygiene system. This view, however, has overlooked the existence and function of scientific knowledge, which underpinned the formulation and implementation of public hygiene policies. This paper explores the knowledge production in public hygiene by research institutes of Japan's colonial government in Korea, drawing on the Hygiene Laboratory as a case. The Hygiene Laboratory chiefly played three roles: first, providing advice on the sanitary police's crackdowns; second, quality inspection of food, beverage, and pharmaceuticals, and authorizing their production and distribution; third, investigating health resources such as conventional food ingredients, medicinal herbs, and drinking water to support the wartime public health policy of the colonial government in Korea. The third function in particular continued after the reorganization of the Hygiene Laboratory as the National Chemistry Laboratory in the postcolonial period. By tracing the Hygiene Laboratory's research activities, this paper highlights the complicated cooperation between expertise, practices, and institutions in the field of sanitation control in colonial Korea.

Keywords: National Chemistry Laboratory; colonial legacy; continuity; public hygiene; sanitary police; Hygiene Laboratory.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Colonialism
  • Drinking Water*
  • Food Ingredients*
  • History, 20th Century
  • Hygiene
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations
  • Republic of Korea


  • Drinking Water
  • Food Ingredients
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations