The Rise of Therapeutic Governing in China

Talk by Li Zhang, UC Davis

The Rise of Therapeutic Governing in China
Thursday, April 06, 2017
12:15 PM - 1:30 PM
352 Haines Hall

This talk explores how and why has psychological intervention gradually become a critical tool of managing the population and governing society in postsocialist China. It argues that psychological counselors and experts are becoming a new form of authority, an indispensible part of creating and managing knowable and stable subjects for the military, the police, schools, and enterprises. The central concept, “therapeutic governing,” refers to the adoption of the therapeutic ethos, techniques, and perspective to improve the management of the work force and to help individuals cope with life in the rapidly changing world. The talk examines what drives local authorities to pursue this change, and how therapeutic governing takes on a different character and significance given China’s unique path of economic reform, socialist legacies, and interface with global capitalism and culture. I suggest that despite the danger of psychologizing social and economic problems, the meshing of therapeutic practices and care with flexible governing techniques has come to be seen by some as an experiment of a new style of governing—“kindly governance,” which is based on the notion of humanism (renxinhua) to contrast with the past socialist rule based on class struggle and coercion.

Li Zhang is Professor of Anthropology and Interim Dean of Social Sciences at the University of California-Davis. She was a 2008 John Simon Guggenheim Fellow and the President of the Society of East Asian Anthropology (2013-15). Her research concerns the cultural, spatial, political, and psychological repercussions of market reforms and postsocialist transformations in China. She is the author of two award-winning books: Strangers in the City (Stanford 2001) and In Search of Paradise (Cornell 2010), and the co-editor of Privatizing China, Socialism from Afar (Cornell 2008). Her current project explores an emerging psychological counseling movement and how it reshapes Chinese people's understandings of selfhood, well-being, and governing.


Sponsor(s): Center for Chinese Studies, The Culture, Power and Social Change Group in Anthropology