Bentuhua: Culturing Psychotherapy in Postsocialist China

Li Zhang, Professor of Anthropology,UC Davis

The breathless pace of post-Mao market reforms has engendered profound changes and ruptures in not only economic and social structure but also the mental and emotional life of Chinese citizens. In this context, more and more middle-class urbanites are turning to nascent psychological counseling to grapple with their mental distress and personal problems, rather than relying on families, friends, and other forms of social support as they did in the past. How do we make sense of this significant shift in the way care of the self is conceived and managed as a new language of emotions and psychological experiences are introduced to Chinese society? What are its broader social, cultural, and political implications? My larger research project seeks to unravel this "inner revolution" that is transforming techniques of the self and subjective experiences through a new therapeutic encounter in postsocialist China. The focus of this particular presentation is to understand how Chinese therapists attempt to "culture" various imported psychotherapy models in order to fit their clients' expectations and cultural sensibility. Rather than recounting a simple triumph of Western therapeutic interventions over local cultural values, norms, and healing, my account reveals an experimental, dialogic process of alterity whose outcomes cannot be easily presumed. Through constant dialogue, translation, and re-articulation between multiple regimes of knowledge, therapy, and ethics, new assemblages of healing practices with distinct "Chinese characteristics" are emerging in this contingent encounter. Finally, I reflect on what the bentuhua process reveals about psychotherapy as a form of globally circulating knowledge/practice.

Li Zhang is a professor of anthropology at the University of California-Davis and a 2008 Guggenheim fellow. Her research concerns the cultural, spatial, and psychological repercussions of market reforms and postsocialist transformations in China. Her first book, Strangers in the City: Reconfigurations of Space, Power, and Social Networks within China's Floating Population (Stanford), traces the reconfigurations of space, power, and social networks within China's "floating population" under late socialism and globalization. Her forthcoming book, In Search of Paradise: Middle Class Living in a Chinese Metropolis (Cornell), examines how the rise of private home ownership reshapes class-specific subjects, urban space, and postsocialist governing. She has also co-edited a volume with Aihwa Ong, Privatizing China, Socialism from Afar (Cornell), which explores how technologies of privatization and neoliberalism articulate with diverse areas of life and politics in China. Her current research project explores the "inner revolution" during the market transition by examining an emergent psychotherapy and psychological counseling movement in Chinese cities.

Monday, May 10, 2010 | 3:15 pm — 4:30 pm
Building 50 - Room 51A Conference Room, Main Quad

Department of Anthropology