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Biopolitical Beijing: Pleasure, Sovereignty, and Self-Cultivation in China's Capital


In this article, life-cultivation arts (yangsheng) in Beijing are presented as a form of political practice. These technologies of the self include physical exercise, nutrition, and transforming one's attitudes and habits. Drawing on interviews and on popular health literature, these ethnographic findings suggest that China is no exception in the field of modern biopolitics, despite its indigenous political philosophies, its long history of imperial bureaucracy, and its more recent revolutionary history of Maoist socialism. Nonetheless, the particular convergence of power and life is deeply historical (i.e., nonmodern) in instructive ways. Local and historically inflected approaches to spirit, pleasure, and health define the political in relation to the achievement of the good life.

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