Regimes of healthy living: The reality of ageing in urban China and the cultivation of new normative subjects

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Journal of Consumer Culture, 2016, 16 (3), pp. 908 - 925
Issue Date:
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© The Author(s) 2014. China is quickly becoming one of the most ageing populations in Asia. Ageing and the associated issue of health care are becoming two key concerns for the government, the market, individual senior citizens and medical and health professionals alike. However, although we have some knowledge about what issues and problems exist in the domain of health and ageing, we know little about how these issues and problems inform individuals' consumption practices and ethical positions of how they should live their lives. This article explores a range of problematic and uncertain situations facing the ageing population in urban China. Drawing on in-depth interviews with more than 20 senior citizens in a Chinese city, the article aims to understand the process by which new ethical ageing subjects come to be formed as individuals negotiate their positions vis-à-vis consumer advice from medical and health professionals, the government and the market. The article starts by identifying the most powerful forces shaping the health-keeping discourses and consumption practices adopted by senior citizens. It then provides an account of how ordinary retired citizens engage in health-keeping practices on a daily basis. Finally, the article outlines the host of feelings that motivate China's senior citizens' active participation in the regimes of healthy living, as well as a range of everyday ethical positions that emerge from their consumption practices. The article argues that as China has been transformed from a socialist state into a neoliberal regime, questions of how neoliberalism works as both a set of techniques of governing and a set of socio-economic policies in the Chinese context must be answered. In the same way that the biopower is a pertinent question to ask of any modern society, how a neoliberal governmentality and its biopolitics work in the Chinese context is both relevant and timely.
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