Cultivating A Therapeutic Self in Urban China
Professor Li Zhang, UC Davis
Facing intensified market competition and rapid social change, many Chinese are experiencing increased mental distress. In this talk, Professor Zhang examines how psychological training and interventions play a vital part in cultivating a new self among urban middle-classes. Professor Zhang asks how the Chinese notion, ziwo (self), is turned into an object of intense inquiry and how therapeutic techniques are deployed for self-development. The new forms of the self however continue to intersect with and complicate the existing social nexus, cultural sensibilities, and notions of personhood. Zhang's ethnography explores how this therapeutic work contributes to intricate forms of subject-making that challenge such conceptual binaries as the private versus social self, the inner versus outer life, psychological versus social problems. While this “inner revolution” is giving rise to a profitable self-care industry and bears certain neoliberal traits, it also dovetails with the state’s project of building a “harmonious society” for conflict reduction.