Psychoanalysis Meets China: transformative dialogue or monologue of the Western voice

José Saporta, M.D.


Abstract by Author

I use the work of the Russian literary scholar and social thinker, Mikhail Bakhtin, to explore the introduction of psychoanalysis to China. Psychoanalysis in China presents an opportunity for dialogue, transformation, and new meaning for both. If cultural difference is denied, there is repetition of the dominant monologue of the Western voice. Repetition is the dominance of monologue over dialogue. Psychoanalysis is grounded in Western narratives and modes of thought. Had psychoanalysis developed in China, were that even possible, it would have done so in a different voice. I explore features of traditional Chinese thought, research on cognitive and perceptual differences between Asian and Western subjects, and aspects of contemporary China, all of which may require some modification of psychoanalytic concepts. The paper presents evidence of the harm which can occur when Western psychology is exported to non-Western cultures without regard for indigenous meanings and forms of discourse. The chapter explores the relation of personal and cultural meaning, involving mutual interaction, regulation and constraint between meanings at varied levels of generality. Finally, I suggest a model from multicultural discourse studies which offers a conceptual, practical, and ethical guide to psychoanalytic work, to the theoretical pluralism within psychoanalysis, and to dialogue between Western and non-Western cultures.


José Saporta, MD, is a faculty at the Center for Psychodynamic Treatment and Research, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Advanced Training Program in Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, and Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute. He taught and supervised psychotherapy in China and presented papers at psychoanalytic conferences in Bejing and Shanghai, and a plenary paper at the 4th International Conference on multi-cultural discourse, Zhejiang University, Hangzhou, 2013.


David E. Scharff and Sverre Varvin, eds. (2014). Psychoanalysis in China. London: Karnac, pp. 73-90 (the book and the chapter reprint are available in the library).

Previous Posts:

John C. Foehl, PhD (2014). A Phenomenology of DepthPsychoanalytic Dialogues, 24:289-303.

Malkah Tolpin Notman, MD (2014). Reflections on Widowhood and Its Effects on the Self. Psychodynamic Psychiatry: Vol. 42, No. 1, pp. 65-88.

Fred Busch, PhD (2013). Changing views of what is curative in 3 psychoanalytic methods and the emerging, surprising common groundThe  Scandinavian Psychoanalytic Review, 36:27-34.

Bennett Simon, MD (2013). Mondrian’s Search for Geometric Purity: Creativity and Fixation. American Imago, 70/3: 515-555.

Elsa Ronningstam, PhD; Arielle R. Baskin-Sommers, MS (2013). Fear and decision-making in narcissistic personality disorder—a link between psychoanalysis and neuroscience. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience. 15(2): 191–201.

Phillip S. Freeman (2013). ARGO: Actuality in Cinema. International Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies, 10/2: 178-180 (posted under Film Series)

Dan H. Buie (2013). Core Issues in the Treatment of Personality-Disordered Patients. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 61/1: 10-23.

Ana-María Rizzuto, MD (2013). Field Theory, the “Talking Cure,” and Metaphoric Processes.Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 33:3, 210-228.

Phillip S. Freeman, MD (2012). The Resilience of Illusion. International Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies (First Brief Communication, 9: 78-83; Second Brief Communication, 9: 344-349).

Paul Ornstein, MD (2012). The Novelist’s Craft: Reflections on The Brothers Karamazov. American Imago, 69/3, p. 295-316.

Stephanie R. Brody, PsyD (2013). Entering Night Country: Reflections on Self-Disclosure and Vulnerability. Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 23:1, p. 45-58.

Ellen Pinsky, PsyD (2012). PHYSIC HIMSELF MUST FADE: A View of the Therapeutic Offering through the Lens of Mortality. American Imago, Vol. 69, No. 1, 29-56.

All articles are available in the library.