New Books Network

Emily Baum’s The Invention of Madness: State, Society, and the Insane in Modern China, published by the University of Chicago Press in 2018 as...

Emily Baum’s The Invention of Madness: State, Society, and the Insane in Modern China, published by the University of Chicago Press in 2018 as part of the Studies of the Weatherhead East Asian Institute book series, is a genealogy of “psychiatric modernity,” of the invention and reinvention of modern mental illness in Beijing, 1901-1937. Focusing on the pivotal roles of the city’s police-run municipal asylum and the Peking Union Medical College, Baum chronicles the transition from eclectic but largely family-centered premodern apprehensions and treatments of “mad behaviors” to a more unified, biomedical, institutionalized view of madness that was intimately linked to questions of social control, political legitimacy, and the rubric of “mental hygiene.” Along the way, this history of neuropsychiatry’s penetration of the administrative and social fabric of modern China examines topics including disjunctures between state and civil actors concerning new understandings and practices around mental illness, as well as the “psychiatric entrepreneurs” who profited from—and sometimes helped to invent or define—new psychiatric conditions. Baum’s careful unearthing of these tensions and innovations sheds informative light on the ways in which madness was invented not just as a top-down administrative or biomedical-neuropsychiatric project but in negotiation with a wide range of actors.