1st Edition

Marriage and Family in Modern China A Psychoanalytic Exploration

By David E. Scharff Copyright 2021
    322 Pages 9 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    322 Pages 9 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Marriage and Family in Modern China is a groundbreaking psychoanalytic examination of how 70 years of widespread social change have transformed the intimacies of life in modern China.

    The book describes the evolution of marriage and family structure, from the ancient tradition of large families preferring sons, arranged marriages and devaluation of girls, to a contemporary dominance of free-choice marriages and families that now prefer to remain small even after the ending of the One Child Policy. David Scharff uses extensive reports of his psychoanalytic interventions to demonstrate how the residue of widespread trauma suffered by Chinese families during past centuries has interacted with the effects of rapid modernization to produce new patterns of individual identity, personal ambition and family structure.

    This wholly original book offers new insight into Chinese families for all those interested in psychoanalytic psychotherapy and in the intricacies of Chinese domestic life.

    PART 1 Marriage and Family in the Context of Contemporary China 1 Introduction 2 A Chinese Marriage: History, Discontinuity and Trauma 3 An Introduction to Psychoanalytic Understanding of Families and Couples 4 The Hidden Chinese Revolution 5 Changing Values in Contemporary China 6 Trauma, Resilience and the Family PART 2 Marriage in China Today 7 Marriage in China: Strengths and Vulnerabilities 8 The Lingering Legacy of Parental Influence 9 Sex and Sexuality in China 10 Extramarital Affairs, Sexual and Emotional 11 Beginning Treatment of a Couple Who Presented with an Extramarital Affair 12 Divorce PART 3 The Changing Face of Families 13 The Young and Changing Family 14 Families of Young Adolescents 15 Older Adolescents, Youth and Two-Child Families 16 A Couple Therapy 17 China in Light of COVID-19 18 A Return to Our Questions


    David E. Scharff, MD, is Co-Founder and Former Director of the International Psychotherapy Institute; Chair of the International Psychoanalytic Association’s Committee on Family and Couple Psychoanalysis; Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University and the UNiforemd at the Services University of the Health Sciences; and editor-in-chief of Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy in China. He directs training programs in analytic couple and family therapy in Beijing and Moscow.

    ‘Finally, absolutely fresh and significant insights on China! Dr. David Scharff has achieved what neither a desk-bound policy wonk nor an impression-gathering journalist could have done: given us a bottom-up portrait of China today. Drawing on interviews conducted over more than a decade as an on-site psychiatrist, he lets his subjects tell their own stories, as individuals, couples, and families. And what stories they are; dramatic tales of change, trauma, and of affirmation in the lives of real men, women, and children in today’s China. In every interview one feels the weight of tradition but, equally, pressures for change from the Communist Party’s periodic crusades and from the country’s embrace of globalization. Who knows where this complex process will lead? Dr. Scharff does not claim to have the answer, but his reality-based speculations are always wise and often brilliant.’

    S. Frederick Starr, PhD, Founding Chair of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute and Silk Road Studies Program; Research Professor and Distinguished Fellow, American Foreign Policy Institute, Washington, DC

    ‘For 13 years, Dr. Scharff has visited China: teaching, treating, and supervising Chinese mental health professionals while focusing on marriage, sexuality and familial relations from psychoanalytic, cultural and historical perspectives. His explorations are informed by the common humanity of the Chinese people, Chinese culture and specific historical events (e.g., the many traumata, the one child family, etc.) This book is replete with clinical examples. He considers how current changes in marital and familial relations will impact future Chinese culture. I highly recommend this wonderful book.’

    Elise Snyder, MD, Associate Clinical Professor, Yale University; Visiting Professor, Sichuan University; and President, China American Psychoanalytic Alliance

    ‘This book is written by a distinguished American psychoanalyst and family and couple therapist who has had extensive experiences with a number of middle-class families and couples in China. It illustrates the importance of recognizing past and present historical events and cultural elements in the effort to understand human psychology. It is most timely as we wonder how the COVID-19 pandemic will change individuals, couples and families in China and as well as in other parts of the world.’

    Vamik Volkan, MD, Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry; Author of Large Group Psychology: Racism, Societal Divisions, Narcissistic Leaders and Who We Are Now (2020)

    ‘David Scharff, an experienced psychoanalyst and family and couple’s therapist, gives us a wonderful book which integrates Chinese personal and family dynamics with cultural and historical developments, including the Confucian heritage, the Cultural Revolution, the Great Leap Forward, urban migration, and the one-child policy, and their sequelae. His case material is clear, rich, personal, and fascinating. All readers interested in modern China or in comparative marital patterns should read this book.’

    Peter Loewenberg, PhD, Emeritus Professor of History and Political Psychology, UCLA; Founding Chair, International Psychoanalytical Association’s China Committee

    ‘Rapid economic and social development in China is producing opportunity for better standards of living, but also places significant stress on families. Dr. Scharff is one of the pioneers who have introduced and developed marital and family therapy in China. While training Chinese therapists, he has sought to understand Chinese families and to help them with a wide variety of difficulties. This new book brings together his valuable views and understanding of Chinese couples and families based on solid clinical experience. Both Chinese therapists and a wide variety of students of China will derive great benefit from this book.’

    Jianyin Qiu, MD, PhD, Deputy Director, Department of Medical Psychology, Jiao Tong University Medical School, Shanghai; Vice Director, Psychoanalytic Committee of the Chinese Mental Health Association

    ‘David Scharff MD is a leading presence in the field of family therapy as practiced in China – and a pioneer in this realm, for he actually helped to build the field from the ground up by training many of China’s present practitioners. In this treasury (he calls it a "treatise") Dr. Scharff shares with us years of distilled experience and reflection. He is an acute and empathetic observer, with a sensitive eye to the humanity and individuality of each case he discusses, but also a discerning sense of what may make the craft, or at least its practice, distinct and different in a Chinese setting. As a social scientist I cannot opine on the merit of his work for his fellow psychoanalysts, but I can attest that Dr. Scharff is peering at China though an exciting new lens: and that his insights will be valuable to readers well beyond the confines of his profession.’

    Nicholas Eberstadt, PhD, Henry Wendt Chair in Political Economy at the American Enterprise Institute; Senior Adviser to the National Bureau of Asian Research; Author of China’s Changing Family Structure: Dimensions and Implications (2019)

    ‘This book is a crystallization of an American psychoanalysts’ rich experiences of training and teaching couple and family therapy in China. He not only teaches us how to help Chinese couples with impasses in their marriages through employing psychoanalytic theory and technique, but he also interprets patterns of Chinese marital and family relationships. He traces the tremendous changes that have occurred over time as well as current challenges from the multiple perspectives of society, culture, history and psychic trauma. This book speaks to the central question: "How does the history of Chinese culture influence the intimacy of family life today?" There are many Chinese translations of classical psychoanalytic books, but this is the first book to bring to hand detailed interviews of Chinese couples and families. This book will bring new insight to Chinese students and practitioners of psychotherapy and psychological counselling.’

    Yang Yunping, MD, Psychiatrist and Psychoanalyst; Member of the International Psychoanalytical Association; Senior Staff, Anding Hospital, Beijing

    ‘David Scharff’s Marriage and Family in Modern China brings a much-needed probe into the values, habits and practices urban Chinese bring to their marriages. Scharff’s psychoanalytical framework provides a useful heuristic framework that is at times, deliciously insightful in its probing of individuals’ subjective experience as it pertains to love, sex, and marital misery and bliss.’

    William Jankowiak, PhD, Professor of Anthropology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas; Co-author of Family Life in China (2016)

    ‘David Scharff is the first writer to explore Chinese families and marriages from a psychoanalytic point of view. His book offers deep understanding of the Chinese collective unconscious and of the light and dark that lurk inside Chinese families. The book is enriched by abundant case material set in historical and cultural context, providing insights essential to psychoanalytic clinicians and teachers as they work to understand the unique challenges in practicing family and marital therapy in China. Scharff’s brilliant insights offer an essential guide to all mental health practitioners – Chinese and Western alike – to their clients, and to all who wish to understand the challenges facing Chinese families today.’

    Li Mengchao, MD, Psychiatrist in Private Practice, Shanghai; Associate Editor of Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy in China

    ‘This book asks much-needed questions on intercultural and couple and family psychoanalysis, focusing on clinical vignettes of Chinese families. Using object relations theory and drawing on his own experiences of engaging with China through teaching, Scharff’s wide-ranging study explores the intersections between current and prospective social and political trends with developments inside the family. Scharff’s study helps meet the growing demand for tools that address the burgeoning mental health needs of Chinese people living in the People’s Republic and abroad. It looks set to become a book of choice for psychology professionals working with Chinese families who are experiencing challenges.’

    Elaine Jeffreys, PhD, Professor, University of Technology, Sydney; Author of Sex in China (2015)

    ‘This immensely rich book offers profound insights into Chinese ways of life and Chinese society. Through reading detailed and often touching interviews and therapies with Chinese couples and families, the reader will learn how China’s history and rapid modernization influence families and pose often complicated challenges for young people raising children. The book’s insightful information about Chinese society and history gives a unique contextual background, offering profound insights for all with interest in China. The book is furthermore an excellent textbook for psychoanalytic couple and family therapy.’

    Sverre Varvin, Psychoanalyst, Professor, Oslo Metropolitan University; Chair, China Committee of the International Psychoanalytical Association; Co-editor, Psychoanalysis in China (2014)

    ‘David Scharff masterfully succeeds in enriching his readers in this book that is drawn from his many years of teaching couple and family therapy in China. His skilful combination of detailed case demonstration and psychoanalytic theory offers the reader deep insight into Chinese couples and families, all against the background of a fascinating synthesis of the social–psychological history of modern China. Scharff writes from the position of a student who tries to understand the influence of Chinese culture and society on couples and families. He explores this previously unexamined area, one that is intrinsically foreign to most Westerners, without any false claims to finality. But this book offers much more than an examination of couple and family therapy in China. Set on the background of the country’s long history, the reader gets an in-depth introduction into living conditions in modern China.’

    Tomas Plänkers, Psychoanalyst; Sigmund Freud Institut, Frankfurt, Germany; Consultant Nember of the International Psychoanalytic Association’s China committee; Editor, Landscapes of the Chinese Soul (2014)

    ‘This book provides a comprehensive account of contemporary marital and family relations in China, placed in the context of China’s rich traditional and varied cultures and its turbulent and ever-evolving history. It is essential reading for all who teach and supervise Chinese mental health professionals and treat Chinese individuals, couples and families. It demonstrates how important social and cultural issues produce challenges within the intimacy of the family and shows how they are addressed in the therapeutic setting.’

    Ralph E. Fishkin, D.O., Co-President, Supervising Analyst, Psychoanalytic Center of Philadelphia; Board Representative: International Psychoanalytical Association (2019–2021); Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Thomas Jefferson University