Society for East Asian Anthropology
Society for Psychological Anthropology
Cosponsored - Oral Presentation Session
The anthropologist Hsuan-ying Huang describes China’s psycho-boom as “a world of multiplicity.” In this world of jianghu (“rivers and lakes”) – a 2,000 year-old trope invoking the world of hermits, vagabonds, and secret societies – the line between professional and lay enthusiast is not clear (2017). Concerns and interests animating intensive study and training sometimes have much to do with a quasi-religious search for meaning of life. This presentation draws from fieldwork in an institute for family therapy, specifically, interviews with fellow trainees who, I eventually discovered, juggle multiple other interests and loyalties. I will discuss the trajectories of two middle-aged women, for whom the road to working as counselors as a second career began with what one might call a “conversion.” As one counselor put it, psychology “saved” her life (jiuming); it relieved her sense of guilt for a family crisis that started with her husband’s extra-marital affair. For another, it began with hearing the news of an old cadre dying from lung cancer; he suddenly ate some solid food after a visit from a therapist-psychiatrist, who merely chatted with him at his bedside. I examine these conversion stories as a way to understand how the multiplicity of the psycho-boom takes form in highly personal projects to transform one’s relation to life. I experiment with thinking of “localization” in first person terms, i.e. first person virtue ethics (Mattingly 2014), by taking the question of how cultural materials converge as a question of how a person transduces materials into meaning.