Provocation, Vital Circulations: Making Donor Citizens

“Learning About Blood Donation Book: Blood Donation, the Shape of Love (For Primary and Middle School Students)” by the Japanese Red Cross Society. The booklet cover features the Japanese Red Cross’ blood donation character Kenketsu-chan at the centre, who poses as the guiding voice throughout the text. The cute drawings contrast with the phrase on the bottom right reminding the solemnity of the core message, “It is only human, who can save humans.”

If organ donor cards work as semiotic objects signalling their carriers’ allegiance to the cause of ‘saving lives’, a host of other mediums circulate beside them to instil such a virtue of bodily giving in the first place. Take this booklet on blood donation disseminated by the Japanese Red Cross, for instance. Targeting primary and middle school students, who are yet ineligible to donate blood in Japan, the booklet conveys the alarming figures of falling blood donation rates among the younger generation, juxtaposed with the constant demand for blood transfusion. Cute fonts, bright pastel tone colours, and the manga characters cast blood donation as a children-friendly activity, possibly to dispel any fear associated with blood or needles (The pain and dislike of needles continue to rank the top self-reported reason of not donating blood among young people in the national blood donation consciousness surveys conducted by the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare!) The manga interspersed throughout the booklet ends with the two (phenotypically Japanese) protagonists declaring “We will also donate blood, when we turn sixteen!” The message here seems to be that becoming virtuous members of (Japanese) society means becoming donors. Or, put differently, growing up means being able to save lives by bodily giving to other citizens. While tissues like organs and blood circulate across bodies to ‘save lives’, the virtue of bodily giving also needs to be kept alive across generations through the circulations of objects like this booklet. What other things, images, virtues and affects are circulating here? Where do they end (what are the parameters of circulations)? Can we talk about the lives, afterlives and aborted lives of vital circulations?

(Author: Dr Jieun Kim)

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