Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

Psychoanalysis in China

Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

Psychoanalysis in China

Article excerpt

Psychoanalysis in China, edited by David E. Scharff and Sverre Varvin, London, Karnac, 2014, 329 pp. ?36.89. ISBN 1780490836

This collection offers instructive glimpses into the founding foreign and local psychoanalytic and psychodynamic training initiatives in China. Essays are presented predominantly by psychoanalysts, psychiatrists and psychologists from Austria, China, Norway, Taiwan, the USA and other locales who participated in the foreign trainings as teachers or students, including graduates who developed the first local training programs in China.

The book opens with "structures of mutual obligations and responsibilities lying in ruins" since "the dismantling of state collectives and the collapse of socialist morals in the 1990s (that) left young Chinese villagers in an ideological vacuum" (Hanson and Cuiming, p. 3). Researchers and clinicians offer compelling examples of how "the logic of capital" employs and disturbs cultural logics that long shaped family life, gender roles and family relationships in China.

In this "free market" context, young people in China experience social and psychological conflict between "collectivism" and "individualism." Hanson and Cuiming found that while young men report seeking not marriage but "free love," the responsibility of caring for elders has increasingly fallen to young women, who long for the "freedom" of lateral economic mobility: the freedom to leave one factory job for another and avoid binding job contracts.

Layers of political history undergird these "modern problems." Following the birth of the Chinese republic in 1912, decades of devastating internal and international military conflict ensued, starting with the Chinese civil war and the near-simultaneous Sino-Japanese war. Plänkers (p. 33) summarizes:

During [these two wars, from 1927 to 1949], three million soldiers lost their lives, more than nine million civilians died in the crossfire and over eight million civilians died in non-military incidents. Ninety-five million people were exiled or fled the country. When the People's Republic of China was established after a communist victory [in 1949], a new chain of catastrophes commenced. As Chang and Halliday (2005) state ..., 'Mao Tse-tung ... was responsible for well over 70 million deaths in peacetime, more than any other twentieth-century leader.' The Great Leap Forward from 1958-1962 led to the largest famine in the history of mankind, starving an estimated twenty to forty million people to death ... A campaign was waged to annihilate evidence of China's traditional culture.

After the first psychoanalytic meetings in Beijing in 1983, clinicians in China began to invite German and Norwegian psychoanalysts to conduct brief experiential trainings. Authors review literature to understand whether individuals born and raised in China would have the requisite capabilities to practice psychoanalysis, citing "passive rationalization," "lack of initiative or curiosity about oneself," and limited capacity for introspection as part of "Chinese national character." These barely masked racial stereotypes, canonized in earlier ethnographic and psychology literatures and critiqued by Saporta (pp. 73-86), intrude upon Chinese clinicians training in psychoanalysis. Li (p. 63) recounts a dream he had in which Freud "wonder(s) how an Asian individual can understand psychoanalysis ... even wonder-(ing) if they have a mind at all." The book does not adequately explore the historical roots of ideas about race, developed during colonial exploits of Britain, France, Germany and the USA.

In this cautious rapprochement, Lin (p. 54) describes how some worry about the survival of psychoanalysis and others worry about surviving psychoanalysis:

What will happen in the encounter as psychoanalysis enters Chinese culture? ... (T)here are anxieties about losing something on both sides: Will psychoanalysis lose its original elements and finally die in China? …

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