- culture-bound syndromes
- Culture-bound syndromes refer to the recurrent patterns of illness experiences only found in the Chinese societies. Some of the symptoms of a culture-bound syndrome may resemble symptoms of mental disorders found throughout the world, but there is seldom a one-to-one equivalence of any culture-bound syndrome with any mental disorder defined by DSM-IV published by the American Psychiatric Association. The most acknowledged culture-bound syndromes in China include four illnesses: (1) Koro (Suoyang, ‘shrinking of yang’), referring to an episode of sudden and intense anxiety that the penis (or, in females, the vulva and nipples) will recede into the body and possibly cause death. Koro is increasingly rare, but occurred as an epidemic in Hainan in the mid 1980s. (2) Qigong psychotic reaction (Zouhuo rumo, ‘go wild as though possessed’), referring to delusional reactions due to misguided practices or overpractice of Qigong.(3) Shenjing shuairuo (debilitation of nerves, or neurasthenia), referring to a condition characterized by physical and mental fatigue, dizziness, headaches, other pains, concentration difficulties, sleep disturbance and memory loss. Partially due to the trend in the West, shenjing shuairuo has been gradually replaced by other categories such as depression. (4) Shenkui (depletion of renal yang), referring to a condition marked by anxiety with accompanying somatic complaints attributed to excessive semen loss. Some culture-bound syndromes were documented in ancient literature of Chinese medicine (e.g. suoyang); others resulted from the mixing and transforming of both Chinese and foreign categories (e.g. shenjing shuairuo) in modern times.See also: geography of diseasecurses and maledictaThe Chinese word for ‘curses’ is majie, meaning literally ‘curses in the street’. In early rural China a woman would even broadcast her curses on the roof of her house. Curses like this aimed at vilifying the victim by character-assassination. The extension of ‘street’ could be any public space or situation. Bullies used the streets to vent their diatribes, which could be very vulgar with extensive references to the human genitalia. Other means of humiliation were to banish the victim to ‘hell’ or reduce him to the abuser’s ‘posterity’. Cause of this type of curses could be alleged hurt feelings or simply pure suspicions.They usually lacked a specific target. Therefore, ‘referring to A while attacking B’ was the normal tactic. Sometimes accusations were point blank. The abuser could run out of steam if the victim remained calm. A rebuttal, however, could trigger a verbal confrontation, which would lead to a tribal war if family members and relatives were involved.As society progresses, majie in its real sense has become a thing of the past, no longer acceptable to an increasingly educated public. Maledicta as mannerism still exist: the worst equivalent to the f-words in English, the milder comparable to the moderated sh-word, such as daomei, which connotes bad luck.Curses are dialectical. An alleged bad person is called suizai in Canton, but biesan in Shanghai, and gui erzi in Sichuan. Some curses are gender-sensitive: only a woman would call someone harassing her chouliumang, meaning ‘a foul rascal’.YUAN HAIWANG
Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. Compiled by EdwART. 2011.