Breathing Spaces

Breathing Spaces: Qigong, Psychiatry, and Healing in China

NANCY N. CHEN
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 256
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/chen12804
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  • Book Info
    Breathing Spaces
    Book Description:

    The charismatic form of healing called qigong, based on meditative breathing exercises, has achieved enormous popularity in China during the last two decades. Qigong served a critical social organizational function, as practitioners formed new informal networks, sometimes on an international scale, at a time when China was shifting from state-subsidized medical care to for-profit market medicine. The emergence of new psychological states deemed to be deviant led the Chinese state to "medicalize" certain forms while championing scientific versions of qigong. By contrast, qigong continues to be promoted outside China as a traditional healing practice. Breathing Spaces brings to life the narratives of numerous practitioners, healers, psychiatric patients, doctors, and bureaucrats, revealing the varied and often dramatic ways they cope with market reform and social changes in China.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50221-4
    Subjects: Anthropology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. CHAPTER ONE INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-34)

    A DEEP BREATH of fresh air was always on my mind when I began field research on psychiatric practices and mental health care in Beijing during the winter of 1990. I lived in a high-rise apartment that faced similar gray buildings constructed in the 1950s. The smokestack of the building next door belched coal dust directly into my window, burning my lungs and making me wish for clear blue skies. Each morning I would look onto a solitary figure standing immobile on the opposite balcony. The whirring sound of pigeons circling nearby in the gray haze eerily accompanied this haunting...

  6. CHAPTER TWO FEVER
    (pp. 35-60)

    ON AN OVERNIGHT TRAIN journey from Shanghai to Beijing during the spring of 1990, I listened to a broadcast of two comedians engaged in quick banter.¹ One comedian began by asking the other performer whether he believed in qigong. His colleague began to recount the amazing deeds of a master who could heal anything, including his baldness, at which the taped audience began to laugh. After the ten-minute sketch moved on to a satire of regional accents and puns, passengers in the hard sleeper section began to discuss whether qigong really could live up to all the claims made by...

  7. CHAPTER THREE RIDING THE TIGER
    (pp. 61-76)

    A PRACTITIONER’S ABILITIES were intricately linked to those of his or her teacher. Masters were not only adept in healing and the movement of qi; they were also viewed as the ultimate embodiment of power. This chapter examines the naturalized powers of these individuals, asking how they became established authorities. A 1990 Chinese political cartoon shows a generic, aged state bureaucrat unwittingly holding the tail of a tiger that is turning to pounce back on him. In contrast, qigong masters were said to embody the ultimate ability to “ride the tiger,” that is, to master difficult situations rather than being...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR QIGONG DEVIATION OR PSYCHOSIS
    (pp. 77-106)

    SHORTLY AFTER the meteoric rise of qigong practice, individuals began to trickle into traditional medical clinics and biomedical hospitals reporting unusual sensations. Ironically, during the height of the fever some individuals practicing qigong began to experience worrisome bouts of vertigo, uncontrollable qi energy, or disturbing visions. As the popularity of qigong spread in urban centers and rural townships through the media and traveling masters, a related phenomenon began to take place in the psychiatric clinics. Concerned family members or work unit officials began to bring in individuals who complained of misplaced qi energy in their bodies, accompanied by uncontrollable sensations...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE CHINESE PSYCHIATRY AND THE SEARCH FOR ORDER
    (pp. 107-138)

    STREET ENCOUNTERS with fengzi (mad people) in post-Mao China were occasionally described to me by acquaintances or friends with mixed feelings of pity and fear. More often, however, these figures were simply ignored. In my initial years in China as an English teacher, I often walked by the busy evening market on campus.¹ During the mid-1980s most stateowned vendors offered produce and goods at set prices. Grain, oil, and steamed bread were still rationed, however, so one needed special coupons to purchase these items. At 5:00 p.m., huge flats of steaming fresh tofu would arrive. Teachers, administrators, and commuters on...

  10. CHAPTER SIX MANDATE OF SCIENCE
    (pp. 139-158)

    THE MANDATE OF HEAVEN (tianming) is the Confucian notion that anyone who successfully seizes the reins of power has the rightful authority to rule over China. Over the centuries, many imperial rulers and their contestants have invoked tianming to declare each other as morally bankrupt while legitimizing their own form of hierarchy as better. In this chapter, I argue that the mandate of science operates as a particular formation in late socialism to anchor and legitimize state authority. Such a strategy offers state bureaucrats the opportunity to define themselves as modern protectors of ordinary people from the influences of evil...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN TRANSNATIONAL QIGONG
    (pp. 159-184)

    DURING THE 1990s qigong was a healing practice with few boundaries. It could be found in cities throughout Asia, the United States, Europe, and even Latin America. Rather than simply being a pan-Chinese phenomenon, with overseas Chinese as the sole practitioners, qigong became a transnational enterprise that was also taken up by non-Chinese of various backgrounds. Aihwa Ong’s notion of the transnational as “situated cultural processes” rather than simply the movement of global capital helps to frame this discussion of the dynamic travel of qigong (1999, 17). In this final chapter I will examine the formations of social networks outside...

  12. CHAPTER EIGHT SUFFERING AND HEALING
    (pp. 185-188)

    CHINESE CULTS and the state bureaucracy share a long genealogy, bound by a similar desire to claim authority. Dramatic confrontations have been extensively documented in court records and media over the centuries. Yet the compelling reasons explaining why participants become drawn to sectarian groups or engage in subversive activities are little understood and frequently overlooked. The overwhelming majority of practitioners that I encountered sought alternative forms of healing as a response to their own illness. Medical anthropologists, engaged with the critical examination of disease, have long asserted that stories of mental and bodily suffering are indexical of social dis-ease and...

  13. GLOSSARY
    (pp. 189-192)
  14. NOTES
    (pp. 193-198)
  15. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 199-232)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 233-238)