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Dangerous Minds: Political Psychiatry in China Today and its Origins in the Mao Era. By Human Rights Watch and Geneva Initiative on Psychiatry. [New York: Human Rights Watch, 2002. 298 pp. ISBN 1-56432-278-5.]

  • Ann Kent
Extract

This report on the political misuse of psychiatry in China today and in the past, based primarily on the indefatigable research of Robin Munro, combines human rights concerns with the insights of forensic psychiatry. Munro has adopted the research methodology of Soviet psychiatrist Semyon Gluzman, who proposed three approaches to the study of political psychiatry in any one country: personal examination of victims; the systematic study of the different schools of psychiatric theory; and the examination of a range of psychiatric publications. Although only the third method is available to researchers of the situation in China – a fact that reveals China's lack of transparency in this area – Munro has made good use of it. The result is a searching examination that throws light on the complex interrelationship between political dissent and mental illness in China and on the tendency of its officials, and even its forensic psychiatrists, to conflate or confuse the two. A comparative global context to the study is provided in several sections: a review by psychiatrist Robert Van Doren of the Soviet experience in political psychiatry; a discussion of international standards in ethical psychiatry; a guide to political psychosis; and a historical overview of law and psychiatry in China before and after 1949. Fourteen major documents are included in the appendices, of which the most interesting and disturbing are debates between Chinese psychiatrists during the Cultural Revolution, and a survey of the current situation in China's mental hospitals, or ankang.

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The China Quarterly
  • ISSN: 0305-7410
  • EISSN: 1468-2648
  • URL: /core/journals/china-quarterly
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