JHBS Special Issue: Histories and Cultures of Mental Health in Modern East Asia

The summer issue of the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences is a special issue on Histories and Cultures of Mental Health in Modern East Asia. Guest edited by Emily Baum and Howard Chiang, the issue includes the following:

“Histories and cultures of mental health in Modern East Asia: New directions,” Emily Baum, Howard Chiang. No abstract.

“Castration fever: On trans, China, and psychoanalysis,” Howard Chiang. Abstract.

This essay considers the evolution of the author’s research over the last 15 years in which the treatment of castration as a historical problem holds promise for bridging disparate scholarly fields and paradigms. In particular, by tracing the shift in the author’s intellectual focus from the science of sex change to the history of transcultural psychoanalysis, some insights are offered in regard to the intertwined politics of transness, Chineseness, and the unconscious. Though psychoanalysis may appear as a subject far removed from the eunuchs of ancient China, this essay highlights some of the methodological stakes that have saturated the historical study of both topics. These reflections can serve as a touchstone for thinking beyond disciplinary norms and conventions, especially in Chinese studies and the history of science.

“Of visceral/somatic practices in healing,” Li Zhang. No abstract.

“Battling coronavirus and mental illness in South Korea,” Theodore Jun Yoo. No abstract.

“Limits of empathy: The dementia t?jisha movement in Japan,” Junko Kitanaka. Abstract:

How can we imagine someone’s experience of illness—even extreme cases, like, for example, psychosis—to the extent that we begin to empathize as if the experience were nearly our own? Based on 5 years of archival research and anthropological fieldwork, I investigate how different forms of understanding and empathy have emerged through the work of people living with dementia (dementia t?jishas), some of who have advocated for the cause in Japan. I show how those with dementia used to be regarded as incommensurable beings, who were sometimes romanticized as having a transcendental power, and how those who care for them have changed their perspectives as they began to see dementia t?jisha as possible versions of their future selves. I also describe the rise of the t?jisha movement and the ways in which it has raised questions about the limits of empathy and instead asserted rights as a basis of understanding. In doing so, dementia t?jisha may be questioning the very foundation of Japanese society, highly invested as it is in the virtue of empathy for maintaining social relations.

“Bonds of time and space: Divination and the psychiatric encounter,” Emily Baum. Abstract:

This essay examines the intersections between divination and psychiatry in the context of modern Chinese history. Throughout the 20th century, subsequent political regimes attempted to drive an ontological wedge between psychiatry, which was deemed scientific, and divination, which was deemed superstitious. While the dichotomy between science and superstition remains a powerful ideology today, it belies the use of divination as a psychotherapeutic tool. Occult practices such as fortune telling and shamanism complement the application of technical psychiatric skills by serving a crucial moral and interpersonal function, one that has important implications for the practice of mental healthcare both within and beyond Asia.

“Between drift and confinement: What can the study of “lunatics” in Hong Kong contribute to the historiography mental health in East Asia?” Harry Yi-Jui. Abstract:

In this essay, the author reflects on his past and current research in transnational history psychiatry and the history of lunatics in Hong Kong, attempting to develop an alternative narrative in the unique free port between the East and the West concerning the conventional colonial historiography of psychiatry. He emphasizes that, in Hong Kong, the historiography of psychiatry should broaden its focus and not limited to the role of mental asylums, for modern psychiatry was almost absent in Britain’s crown colony until the end of World War II, and custodial care for lunatics was only one temporary measure in a much broader network of patient repatriation. The grand project was designed not for the well-being of the mentally ill but the smooth operation of the international commercial port. In addition, the post-war institutionalization of psychiatry, including the expansion of hospitals and the creation of the psychiatric specialty in Hong Kong, did not improve the mental health of Hong Kong residents. The author argues that this is because the rapid development of modern psychiatry in the former British colony overlooked the social determinants of mental suffering. A historical understanding of psychiatry in Hong Kong is helpful to address such ignorance.

“Ritual futures: Spirit mediumship as chronotopic labor,” Emily Ng. Open Access. Abstract:

This essay reflects on the still-present difficulty in approaching contemporary rural mediumship as coeval with their urban psychotherapeutic counterparts. Drawing on ethnographic work in rural Henan province in central China, I describe how both rurality and spirit mediumship have been rendered anachronistic through national imaginaries, anti-superstition campaigns, and psychiatric discourses. The essay centers on the case of a spirit medium located in the psychiatric unit, and the social evolutionary and developmentalist temporalities condensed in her cultural psychiatric diagnosis. I then turn to the medium’s ritual work and cosmological account, which invert mediumship’s position in space and time. The essay approaches mediumship’s rituals as a form of chronotopic labor, which reworks the spatio-temporal coordinates they inherit from within. It closes by bringing together the conundrums of rural mediumship and those of urban psychotherapeutic and diasporic worlds, to consider psychic landscapes of dislocation, and other formulations of futures to come.

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young is a professor at Quest University Canada. A critical feminist psychologist and historian of psychology, she is committed to critical pedagogy and public engagement with feminist psychology and the history of the discipline.