Dealing with “the Sexually Perverse”: Psychiatric Institutions and Regulation of Deviant Sexuality in Socialist China (1949-1990)

Mian Chen, Northwestern University

This paper examines the expansion of institutionalized psychiatric biopower and its regulation of “abnormal” sexuality. Drawing on gazetteers, textbooks and periodicals of psychiatric institutions, I argue that socialist psychiatric institutions treated uncommon sexualities as curable diseases. By classifying uncommon desires as the result of “abnormal personalities” in socialist China and as one kind of "sexual perversions" in early post-socialist China, psychiatrists continually subjected them to medical interventions. Although some practices like fetishism were considered rare, psychiatrists still collected information and tried to discover underlying biological and social causes. Similarly, they turned to aversion therapy and medication to treat homosexuality. These intervention showed how these institutions became both a site to regulate heterodox sexual subjects and to promote standard heterosexual marriage. How socialist psychiatric institutions classified and treated unconventional desires in the People’s Republic of China presaged the medicalization and stigmatization of sexual deviance in post-socialist China.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 123. Divining Desires through Institutions: The Possibilities and Limits of Data