The Politics and Regulation of Anger in Urban China
Negative emotions such as anger, and community responses to their expression are culturally and politically conditioned, including by dominant medical discourse on anger’s somatic and psychic effects. In this article I examine local genres of anger expression in Beijing, China, particularly among marginalized workers, and address culturally specific responses to them. Through majie (rant), xiangpi ren (silenced rage), and nande hutu (muddledness as a more difficult kind of smartness), workers strategically employ anger to seek redress for injustices and legitimate their moral indignation while challenging official psychotherapeutic interventions. Those who seek to regulate anger, mostly psychosocial workers acting as arm’s-length agents of the state, use mixed methods that draw on Western psychotherapy and indigenous psychological resources to frame, medicalize or appease workers’ anger in the name of health and social stability. I demonstrate how the two processes—anger expression and responses to it—create tensions and result in an ambiguous and multivalent social terrain which Chinese subjects must negotiate and which the state attempts to govern. I argue that the ambivalence and multi-valence of anger expressions and state-sponsored reactions to them render this emotion both subversive vis-à-vis power and subject to manipulations that maintain social order.
KeywordsChina Anger Counseling Psychologization Therapeutic governance Xiangpi ren Nande hutu
Pieces of the argument and narratives of the article were presented at the 112th annual meetings of the American Anthropological Association at Chicago in 2013 and at a conference called Irony and the Chinese State organized by Hans Steinmuller and Susanne Brandstader at the London School of Economics in 2010. I thank the organizers of and participants at both events. I particularly appreciate Byron Good’s insightful comments on my conference paper on this topic, which compelled me to rethink the relationship between the so-called xiangpi ren and suppressed anger and the significance of the topic of anger in Chinese society. I thank Janet Dixon Keller, Kristina Kyser, Marguerite Pigeon, Mieke Mattyssen, and Yanhua Zhang for insights, reference guidance, and helpful editorial suggestion. The research for this paper was funded by a multi-year research grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities of Research Council of Canada.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Conflict of Interest
The Author declares that she has no conflict of interest.
All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.
This study was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities of Research Council of Canada grant number: 410-2011-1778(13761).
Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.
Research involving animal rights
This article does not contain any studies with animals performed by the author.
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