The March 2016 issue of Culture, Medicine & Psychiatry is here! Over the coming weeks, we will feature article highlights from a selection of the newest research published at our journal. To access the full issue, click here.
In today’s article highlight, we examine Jie Yang’s research in “The Politics and Regulation of Anger in Urban China” (accessible here.) Yang’s article ethnographically maps the connections between statewide therapeutic programs and the management and expression of anger amongst largely working-class, urban Chinese men and women.
Yang begins by noting that urban social workers and other clinicians place a strong emphasis on the treatment of negative psychosocial symptoms, and frequently relate poor physical health– as well as social unrest– to unmanaged expressions of anger. Their agenda reflects that of the Chinese state, which simultaneously values individuals’ happiness and pathologizes anger. Amongst the working class and the poor in China, however, some social ills which lead to detrimental emotional outbursts are indeed related to the state’s management of social life. Yang cites one example in which a Chinese man masterminded a bus explosion which resulted in numerous fatalities. His outburst was a heated response to the government, which repeatedly failed to approve his pension and dismantled his street stall: his only source of income. Thus anger proves to be a harmful, yet powerful, mechanism for the working class to vocalize frustrations with the government and injustices stemming from the failings of the state.
The author continues by describing a range of anger “genres” employed by the Chinese working class. These “genres” describe performative types of anger expression that have different roles depending on the nature of the injustice one is responding to. One form of expression, maije, is a form of public cursing– often on the street– to widely verbalize one’s frustrations and vulnerability due to poor working conditions. Another form, xiangpi
ren, refers to “a human punching bag,” or someone who does not outwardly respond to an injustice and seems to passively internalize their negative emotions. The advantage to this form, however, is that such individuals may be preparing for a specific opportunity to “rise up” in protest.
In addition to the array of expressions and forms that anger may take, Chinese individuals have an equally pluralistic selection of therapeutic interventions to manage or alleviate their anger. This includes Confucian, Daoist, Western, and folk Chinese remedies for psychological distress. Conversely, therapists who serve the state have social access to this range of modalities and psychological concepts, thus arming them with various mechanisms for managing and controlling “angry” individuals.
After exploring genres of anger in greater detail, both from the individual and clinical perspectives, Yang closes by positing that “the domestication of anger is key to sustaining
stability in the Changping factory and in China at large. It contributes to the relative
peacefulness in China amidst widespread socioeconomic transformation.” As therapists and state-employed clinicians seek to tame anger, so too do they attempt to recast anger as a personal expression of injustice rather than a social symptom of widespread unrest. Anger thus remains a prominent vehicle for the expression of individual as well as social injustice across a shifting socio-economic landscape.