Affect, sociality, and the construction of paternalistic citizenship among family caregivers in China

Zhiying Ma


In recent years, the Chinese state has made family members care for and manage persons diagnosed with serious mental illnesses. Many of these caregivers are also former socialist workers to whom the state has broken its promise of paternalism. This article examines the affective experience, sociality, and citizenship claims of these caregivers. My fieldwork shows that, despite state agents’ attempts to depoliticize their feelings, caregivers construct narratives of suffering together, which allow them to make sense of their systemic marginalization and the state’s hypocrisy. They engage in complicit but righteous searches for welfare, healthcare, and leisure resources together, while also publicly demanding the state’s recognition of and support for themselves and their loved ones. I examine the promises and perils of this “paternalistic citizenship” as exemplified by caregivers, and consider the affective transformations it needs to open new political horizons.

Full Text:


DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/717516