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China and Inner Asia
In Session: Fathoming and Fixing Minds: China in the World of Psy Sciences
2: Between Agency and Nature: Psychosomatic Healthcare in Socialist China, 1949-1965
Tuesday, March 23, 2021
12:00pm – 1:30pm EDT
Simon Fraser University, Canada
In healthcare, the knowledge of psychosomatic dynamics has made it a common practice for physicians to tap into the patient’s subjective qualities, such as confidence and optimism, to enhance treatment outcomes. In socialist China between 1949 and 1965, a radical version of psychosomatic healing became a defining feature of healthcare and keenly promoted by copious medical professionals, patients, and celebrities. This article examines this progressive psychosomatic healthcare as a transnational assemblage of several ideological, scientific, and medical sources. Mao Zedong’s dialectical materialism, originally meant to reconcile idealism with materialism, ended up lopsided in favor of the power of human agency. Next, Mao’s radical ideology appropriated traditional Chinese medicine and Soviet Pavlovian neurology for their common recognition of the role of mental states in inducing rehabilitation. The resultant progressive psychosomatic model exhorted passionate self-exertion and self-discipline towards the building of socialism, a goal that not only served as a sublime source of inspiration for fostering self-aided physical recovery, but also called for the cultivation of revolutionary personhood through combating illness. At the same time, there was an underprivileged psychosomatic model that served as a passive alternative to the progressive model. Exemplified by Qigong and Soviet-imported “therapeutic and protective regimen”, the passive model recommended restfulness and quietude as means of healing, creating an opening for patients to escape from unrelenting state demands. By comparing these two psychosomatic models, this presentation discusses the flexibility in medical-and-political interpretations of the mind-body complex, informed by China’s nation-building and transnational communism.