Society for East Asian Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
The past three decades have witnessed drastic social transformations, increased needs for mental healthcare services, and the rise of Western psychotherapy and psychiatric medicine in China. In accordance, TCM (traditional Chinese medicine) professionals have been active in crafting a mental health sector within their profession to establish the professional authority and compete for social and economic resources in treating mental illnesses alongside the dominant Western psychiatry and clinical psychology. Into the new century, TCM seemed to experience its own “psycho-boom” with numerous publications devoted to TCM psychology and growing clinical practices specialized in treating mental distress, emotional disorders, and psychosomatic illnesses drawing on both TCM sources and Western psychotherapeutic modalities. However, China’s first mental health law effective in 2013 specifies only a register psychiatrist can diagnose and treat mental disorders and fails to include TCM under its legal provisions regarding the treatment of mental disorders, which further complicates the contexts in which TCM professionals develop psycho-knowledge and work with patients suffering mental disorders. Drawing on ethnographic observations and recorded lectures from a TCM continuing education program, this paper examines how, in aligning with the science of psychology and negotiating its institutional role in the official mental health care systems, the emerging TCM psychology not only transforms TCM theories and practice, but more importantly, with its hybrid practices, participates in making a new type of moral person in the post-reform China that vacillates between the relational, role-bearing, and embodied member of a community and an individualized, self-motivated, well-adjusted psychological subject.