Emily Baum

Associate Professor, HistoryUniversity of California / Irvine

Award Information

2011 IDRF Program

HistoryUniversity of California / San Diego

Spit, Chains, and Hospital Beds: A History of Insanity in Modern China, 1898-1949

This project will investigate changing conceptions of mental illness in early twentieth century China. Beginning in the 1900s, Western missionaries introduced the first insane asylums to China, and the advent of this new institution was accompanied by evolving notions about the proper care and treatment for the insane, legal rights for mentally ill criminals, and the potential societal causes that had led to the psychological incapacitation of the individual. While previous studies on historical psychology in China have tended to stress the reasons why China’s experience with madness diverged from that of the West, my research will highlight the unique Chinese perspective on insanity as it evolved from the late nineteenth through mid-twentieth centuries. Through an investigation of police records, medical documents, textbooks, and other related archival materials, this project will seek to understand what “mental illness” meant to the Chinese of the early twentieth century—and how its attempted eradication fit into China’s modernization and national strengthening project.