Macao and the Greater Bay Area Talk Series 2019: “Promises and Perils of Guan: Mental Health Care and the Rise of Biopolitical Paternalism in Post-Socialist China”
Seminar / Lecture
Centre for Macau Studies, University of Macau, Department of Sociology, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Macau
Prof. Zhiying Ma
12 August 2019
E21-G002, Humanities and Social Sciences Building
Abstract: Over the last three decades, most psychiatric inpatients in China have been hospitalized against their will, by their families. The first national Mental Health Law, effective since 2013, has reinforced the family’s rights and responsibilities in psychiatric care. The family’s involvement is inscribed in the keyword guan (管), a polysemous word that can refer to caring about and being responsible for another individual, and/or to managing, governing and controlling interpersonal situations. Drawing on 32 months of fieldwork, my research examines the family’s involvement in psychiatry, and explores the implications for the ethics, affects, and political economy of care and population governance in post-socialist China.
In this talk, I will trace the circulation of a language and practice of guan between legal, psychiatric, and familial realms. I argue that a biopolitical paternalism has emerged in post-socialist China that demands and legitimizes the family’s involvement in psychiatric care, particularly by invoking and reconfiguring the family’s role in performing guan. This ideological and practical formation constitutes mentally ill patients as subjects of perpetual risk management. The cultural ethics of guan paternalism lends ideological legitimacy to the post-socialist state’s population control policies. Meanwhile, through the recursive circulation of paternalist modes of governmentality such as guan, the actual work of care and control are relegated to families. This form of biopolitical paternalism thus produces shared vulnerabilities and ethical unease within families, as well as aggravating health disparities across the mentally ill population. I will conclude the talk by considering the conceptual efficacy and practical implications of biopolitical paternalism.