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The Gun Wa Trials: Chinese Doctors, Narrative Advertisement, and Consumer Fraud in the Late Nineteenth Century American West


Li, Jessica Du (2018) The Gun Wa Trials: Chinese Doctors, Narrative Advertisement, and Consumer Fraud in the Late Nineteenth Century American West. Senior thesis (Major), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/nx3n-xf35.


In the late nineteenth century, the United States experienced a surge of anti-Chinese sentiment that targeted both Chinese laborers and skilled Chinese professionals. Chinese doctors were thus caught between two disadvantageous developments as, during the same decades, the regular or allopathic school of medicine asserted increasing control over the medical profession and successfully lobbied for restrictive licensing laws. This thesis examines the relationship between TCM newspaper advertisements and the way Americans viewed Chinese doctors and culture in Denver, Colorado and Milwaukee, Wisconsin from 1888 to 1897. In particular, it focuses on the case of Gun Wa, a fake Chinese doctor created by a handful of white men to sell their medicines, and discusses the ways in which the company exploited TCM as it faced attacks from two fronts. To understand the unique interpretation of TCM and Chinese culture the white men brought, Gun Wa’s advertisements are compared to those of real Denver Chinese doctors. By combining elements of Chinese and western culture, the company was able to create a convincing persona with convincing remedies in the newspapers to attract customers. The use of narrative testimonials was particularly important to capture ethos and respectability, revealing the relative social status Chinese doctors held in their adoptive communities. The subsequent Gun Wa trials exposed the fraud and damaged relations between Chinese doctors and their non-Chinese communities. Although Chinese doctors could repair their relations with the Denver community, they would ultimately fail to obtain the approval of professional medical societies, pointing to the limitations of Denver acceptance of Chinese culture.

Item Type:Thesis (Senior thesis (Major))
Subject Keywords:Gun Wa; Chinese medicine; Chinese doctor; Nineteenth century; U.S. History; Milwaukee; Denver; medical fraud
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Humanities and Social Sciences
Major Option:Biology
Minor Option:History
Awards:Library Friends Senior Thesis Prize Finalist, 2018.
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Gronningsater, Sarah
Group:Senior Undergraduate Thesis Prize
Thesis Committee:
  • None, None
Defense Date:13 June 2018
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:06152018-190907854
Persistent URL:
Li, Jessica Du0000-0001-7958-5598
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:11088
Deposited By: Jessica Li
Deposited On:21 Jun 2018 21:10
Last Modified:02 Aug 2022 21:37

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