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Estranged bodies, simulated harmony, & misplaced cultures: neurasthenia in contemporary Chinese society

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By Lee S • www.ProHealth.com • July 4, 1998


OBJECTIVE: To study the sociocultural transformation of
neurasthenia (shenjing shuairuo, SJSR), as both disease and
illness, in Chinese society.
METHOD: This is based on a
critical review of evidence drawn from the psychiatric and
anthropological literature, and the use of a single case
study.
RESULTS: SJSR remains a ubiquitous illness in socio-
politically different Chinese societies, but the
Americanization of Chinese psychiatry has paradoxically made
the "same" disease category languish rapidly in professional
practice. Although it engages bodily modes of attention, SJSR
is far from being a physical, somatoform, or chronic fatigue
disorder.
CONCLUSIONS: Psychiatric disease and illness do not
run a "natural" course independent of social and historical
contexts. SJSR usefully muddles the Cartesian mind-body
dichotomy and is readily compatible with psychosocial
manifestations and explanatory models. From a sociosomatic
perspective, the embodied world of SJSR may arbitrate as well
as critique the conjunctures of large-scale political,
economic, and moral transformations in Chinese communities.
These macrosocial forces and their local manifestations need
to be considered in deriving a cross-culturally valid paradigm
of psychosomatic medicine.




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