Society for East Asian Anthropology
Society for Psychological Anthropology
Cosponsored - Oral Presentation Session
This paper examines “empty heart disease” (kongxin bing), a new diagnosis coined by Dr. Xu Kaiwen, a renowned psychiatrist/psychotherapist at Peking University. First proposed in November 2016 at a popular talk, this “illness of the age” (shidai bing), which presented with a cluster of symptoms—including depression, loneliness, and meaningfulness—that had allegedly become common among students at elite institutions like Peking University, stirred up a lively debate on social media and beyond. Taking the discussion on “empty self” and narcissism in American psychology and social sciences (for example, Cushman 1990; Lasch 1979) as a reference point, I trace the trajectory of Dr. Xu’s formulation. Emphasis is placed on how he turns from a social critique on China’s education system to a professional critique on the near-complete acceptance of Western psychiatry and psychotherapy by his colleagues. I situate this move in the psy-disciplines’ long-term pursuit for indigenization—the creation of treatment modalities that suit the Chinese—as well as the intensification of this ideal in the Xi Jinping era.