Cultivating self-health subjects: Yangsheng and biocitizenship in urban China

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Journal Article
Citizenship Studies, 2015, 19 (3-4), pp. 285 - 298
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© 2015 Taylor & Francis. China's transformation from state-run socialism to market economy has resulted in the progressive privatization of a number of key areas, including public health. At the same time, research suggests that the privatization of public service has given accelerated the formation of self-governing subjects who will enrich and strengthen Chinese authoritarian rule. This is most vividly demonstrated in the tendency of Chinese consumers to engage in the practice of self-health, an integral dimension of the wide-spread yangsheng (life-nurturing) practice at the grassroots level. Engaging with the concept of biocitizenship, and combining critical analysis of media with ethnographic fieldwork, this paper examines a nationwide process of health literacy education through popular media and the ways in which this process shapes yangsheng as both discourse and practice. It also identifies a range of ethical positions adopted by individual citizens in response to yangsheng as a discourse, practice and industry. The discussion reveals that biological citizenship has indeed become a new and integral dimension of China's citizenship project in the twenty-first century. We learn that while there is indeed an unambiguously top-down process of making biocitizens, a certain level of biological citizenship ‘from below’ is also present, albeit with distinct Chinese characteristics.
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