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Professor Jie Yang Receives 2023 SSHRC Partnership Development Grant

August 29, 2023

Congratulations to Anthropology Professor Jie Yang, the recipient of a $199,699 Social Sciences and Humanities Council (SSHRC) Partnership Development Grant!

"Learning from Chinese classics: Indigenous psychology and psychological care for China and the World"

This project will draw on Chinese indigenous psychology (IP) and use a partnership approach to develop a framework for alternative models of psychological care. For three decades, imported Euro-American psychological ideas have informed the work of psychologists in China, but calls for a shift towards psychology rooted in Chinese cultural values have become urgent since 2013, when China passed its first mental health law. The law implements a Euro-American model of care and partially forecloses IP practices. While Chinese psychologists and counsellors now use hybrid therapies that graft therapeutic elements from Chinese classics of philosophy, medicine, and literature onto existing Euro-American modalities, this hybrid style fails to challenge underlying claims of the imported psychology (for example, about the role of a “psyche”) or assess their applicability in the Chinese context, which traditionally centres the heart as the basis of cognition, virtue, and feeling, not the psyche. This failure results in a theoretical and clinical disjuncture.

The proposed partnership brings together anthropologists, psychologists, philosophers, and literary scholars to use Chinese IP to rethink psychological care. Focusing on Chinese classic works of philosophy, medicine, and literature, the partnership will systematically examine indigenous Chinese psychological systems and classifications of mental distress, plus treatment approaches. The proposed research differs markedly from current trends for revitalizing Chinese cultural tradition through the popularization of Chinese classics, as those efforts tend to be cursory, biased, and subservient to political agendas. Dr. Yang's goal is to develop a framework for a contemporary care model for mental wellbeing.

Given the vast scope of Chinese classical writings, the research requires a partnered team approach that is both international and interdisciplinary (combining philosophy, psychology, literature, anthropology, and expertise on Chinese and Euro-American psychological traditions) and brings together experts from: Simon Fraser University, University of British Columbia, Beijing Normal University, the Institute of Psychology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, University of Rochester, University of Ljubljana, and Ghent University. This partnership will uncover foundational indigenous Chinese knowledge and modes of care for sanity and wellbeing. The team does not aim to exhaustively catalogue ideas from every classic Chinese work. Instead, they expect to identify gaps and clashes between indigenous Chinese psychological systems and what shapes today’s therapeutic practices in China, based as they are on imported concepts.

Their specific objectives, therefore, are to: 1) build an interdisciplinary research partnership of scholars, students, and academic institutions to map the Chinese indigenous framework for mental wellbeing; 2) articulate gaps and clashes—both pragmatic and epistemological—between traditional Chinese psychological ideas and contemporary applications of imported psychotherapy in China; 3) compare and contrast Chinese IP with Euro-American psychology to establish an indigenous model of psychological care based on local ontologies; 4) synthesize findings to build and test framework for a psychological care model based on Chinese IP.