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Peiliao: Gender, Psychologization, and Psychological Labor in China

Jie Yang

Keywords: CHINA; COUNSELING; GENDER; PEILIAO; PSYCHOLOGICAL LABOR; PSYCHOLOGIZATION; THERAPEUTIC ETHOS; UNEMPLOYMENT

Abstract

This article examines the psychologization trend in China by analyzing peiliao (companion to chat), a 'profession' promoted among laid-off women workers since the mid-1990s. Unlike other psychological caregivers who empathize or sympathize through imagining the situation of another who suffers, job counselors encourage those who become peiliao to invoke their direct experience of unemployment in their current care work. Such job training not only reinscribes these women's pain, but also naturalizes their psychological labor as part of their moral virtue, which downplays its social and economic value. The article suggests that peiliao and other psychologizing processes in China, rather than depoliticizing social struggle, constitute a new arena for politics in which marginalized women's psychological labor is exploited both to advance market development and to enact the therapeutic ethos of the ruling party.

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