A Culture Rethinks Psychology

Article excerpt

Byline: Melinda Liu

The last time that China suffered a natural disaster approaching the magnitude of the recent earthquake in Sichuan, its Maoist leaders considered psychology a "bourgeois" discipline. Survivors of the 1976 Tangshan quake, which killed at least 255,000 people, were left to cope on their own with posttraumatic stress disorder. On May 12, however, for the first time in its history, China's Communist Party leaders ordered a large-scale mobilization of mental-health workers alongside disaster-relief personnel. The need is great: the calamity killed as many as 80,000, created at least 5,500 orphans and left 5 million homeless. According to one local news report, 600,000 residents may need psychological assistance.

Help was available for 15-year-old Xiang Li, who along with 900 schoolmates was in class when the Juyuan Middle School collapsed. Pinned for three hours in the rubble, Xiang kept shouting encouragement to her friends. Out of her class of 66, she was among only 25 to survive. "I don't have nightmares," she told NEWSWEEK with a bold chirp in her voice. "The earthquake taught me to be brave." But moments later she confided to Dr. …