Issue 14.2, May 1999

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Essay Excerpt

Technologies of Everyday Life: The Economy of Impotence in Reform China

by Judith Farquhar

Chinese medical technologies certainly produce subjects. I have elsewhere considered transformations of subjectivity in Chinese medical contexts of the reform period, arguing that once the radical Maoist project of making a new socialist citizen and a new China had been compromised and abandoned, state-supported institutional complexes like that of Chinese medicine began to produce people in different ways(3). It is not just that herbs and acupuncture needles actually do affect disease states; their use also entails a particular approach to bodily life, one that manages economies of bodily resources and investments (e.g., fluids and energies) in particular ways. The substances that flow through and constitute the Chinese medical body (blood and breath, seminal essence, phlegm, wind, and more) are perhaps harder to commodify than Ermo's blood, but they are nevertheless subject to depletion and repletion, and foolish expenditure of those that can flow outside the body leads to chronic illness and premature death(4). Though the theory of bodily resources and self-management that informs traditional medicine is unknown even to most users of its products and services, there are still certain logics that specialists share with the sufferers who seek them out. The diverse materials I discuss below will show that one such logic is economic. (155)

Farquhar, Judith. "Technologies of Everyday Life: The Economy of Impotence in Reform China." Cultural Anthropology 14, no. 2 (1999): 155-179