17 January 2008

The Wall Street Journal has the tragic story of Wang Guocheng, a schizophrenic who could not receive treatment and whose family (and neighbors, and local police) caged him after he stabbed an old woman to death. He later beat his mother to death as well. One form that his mania took was this:

At one point, Guocheng spent his time painting over slogans written on power poles by supporters of Falun Gong, a banned spiritual movement. Adamantly opposed to the group, Guocheng once held a knife to his father’s neck, saying, “If you are a member of Falun Gong, I will kill you,” his father recalls.

It reminds me of the Human Rights Watch report on the political use of psychiatry in China, Dangerous Minds: Political Psychiatry Today and its Origins in the Mao Era [blocked]. As Jonathan Mirsky summarized in the New York Review of Books:

One of the main categories of “people taken into police psychiatric custody” for diagnosis, according to an official police encyclopedia cited by Munro, are those

commonly known as “political maniacs,” who shout reactionary slogans, write reactionary banners and reactionary letters, make anti-government speeches in public, and express opinions on important domestic and international affairs.

In 1994, a case of what a senior official termed “utter political lunacy” was published in a training manual for Chinese forensic psychiatrists. According to Munro’s account in Dangerous Minds, “Zhu,” fifty-seven, an army veteran, Communist Party member, and retired worker, had been diagnosed as a “paranoid psychotic” and probably confined in one of China’s special Ankang. Although Zhu had been praised in the official newspaper People’s Daily as a model activist during the Cultural Revolution, by the Eighties, still an ardent Maoist, he spoke and wrote against Mao’s successor, Deng Xiaoping. His workmates regarded Zhu as quiet, respectable, orderly, and sane, although somewhat eccentric; he never discussed his “reactionary” views with them. He wrote a 100,000-character manifesto, bought a printing machine, and sent his views to various leaders.

Psychiatrists found Zhu “politically deluded,” and deemed his views and writings “incompatible with his status, position, qualifications, and learning” (he was, after all, a mere semi-educated worker, and hence seen as not being qualified to speak on politics and economics—despite having held a leading position on his local Revolutionary Committee). They declared that he was “divorced from reality,” although his delusions were said to be “not entirely absurd in content,” and his “overall mental activity remained normal.” His fate in the Ankang [asylums] is unknown, as is almost always the case.

This approach, according to Munro, has been reapplied to Falun Gong members:

In another case, a “female,” age forty-five, described in the Chinese Journal of Clinical Psychological Medicine in 2000, was arrested for being a member of Falun Gong and practicing the qigong exercises which Falun Gong claims improve spiritual understanding and health…

The only “mentally dangerous” symptom or activity cited in the forty-five-year-old woman’s police psychiatric report was:

Even after the government declared Falun Gong to be an evil cult, she refused to be dissuaded from her beliefs and continued gathering people to practice Falun Gong.

Moreover, she went to Beijing to petition the authorities “about the suppression of the group.” She was then “placed under criminal detention.” Her official diagnosis: “mental disorder caused by practicing an evil cult.”

…In both cases a serious sign of their “mental disorders,” frequently cited in similar Chinese psychiatric diagnoses of political or religious “crime,” was that, unlike what are called “genuine dissidents,” the accused made no attempt to “disguise their identities or run away.”

The NYRB article was about how the World Psychiatric Association was attempting to investigate China’s psychiatric hospitals as a result of the report in 2003. Haven’t figured out what happened since. I do know one thing: the U.S. executes schizophrenics sometimes.

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