The goldfish has played a uniquely important role in the development of genetics, embryology, and aquaculture technology in China in part because of its connections to experimental traditions, historical heritage, and role as an economically valuable species. Building upon well-developed literature on model organisms in the life sciences, this talk gives an overview of the trajectory of goldfish as experimental organisms in twentieth-century China, while illuminating how its scientific life co-evolved with its varied representations as pet in China’s changing political and cultural milieus. It shows how biologists engaged local cultures, politics, and global scientific traditions in genetics, embryology,and evolution to construct research programs of the goldfish in drastically different political climate. By following the fish, we open windows to understand the changing epistemic and socio-cultural space of biology in the country. The speaker will raise questions about the exact epistemic and social functions, as well as the “modelness” of the goldfish as reflected in the scientific and political activities mentioned in the talk. She will also discuss the question of how such regional focus on a single species that was less studied elsewhere helps us explore new ways to study world histories of biology and the role of local organisms in them.
Dr. Lijing Jiang’s research concerns the wide-ranging impact of the material and political uses of certain objects or organisms in the life sciences. She is especially concerned with how philosophical, cultural, and political meanings become etched into chosen research materials and how they shape processes of knowledge production and development of disciplines and industries. Her current book project focuses on the evolving role of the goldfish, Carassius auratus, in modern Chinese life sciences. The manuscript, Of Goldfish and Scientists, traces the use of the goldfish as an experimental organism in developing genetics, embryology, and aquaculture in the changing political milieus of 20th-century China. She is currently a Haas Postdoctoral Fellow in the Beckman Center for the History of Chemistry at the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia, PA.