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Biopolitical Paternalism and Its Maternal Supplements: Kinship Correlates of Community Mental Health Governance in China

By Zhiying Ma

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Cite As:
Ma, Zhiying. 2020. “Biopolitical Paternalism and Its Maternal Supplements: Kinship Correlates of Community Mental Health Governance in China”. Cultural Anthropology 35 (2):290–316. https://doi.org/10.14506/ca35.2.09.

Abstract

This article examines how the community mental health program run by the Chinese state conceptualizes, mobilizes, and molds the family. My fieldwork shows that, on the one hand, the program defines care biomedically and connects it to managing security risks in the population. The state fashions itself as paternal while displacing most responsibilities for patient care and management onto the supposedly authoritative families. On the other hand, caregivers—mostly women and the elderly—may resort to practices publicly denounced but privately enabled by the program, such as covert medication and home confinement. They do so not only to manage patients from a position of vulnerability and deprivation but also to compassionately engage with patients’ suffering and non-medical desires. These two entangled kinship correlates of state power, which I call “biopolitical paternalism” and its “maternal supplements,” prove critical for understanding the work of community governance in China and beyond.

Keywords

care; biopolitics; paternalism; family; mental health; community governance; China