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Psychiatric services in China: or, Mao versus Freud.

  • Allodi, F
  • Dukszta, J
Published Article
Canadian Psychiatric Association journal
Publication Date
Oct 01, 1978
PMID: 709488


Reportedly, the People's Republic of China has made great progress in health care services, particularly at preventive, primary and community levels. Information on their psychiatric services is still scarce. A group of 12 health professionals visited the country for three weeks in July 1977. This paper provides a description and an analysis of the network of mental health services using a sample of one mental hospital, six general hospitals and a number of health units in cities, factories and communes. The basic principles of policy and administration are those of a collective socialism with strong central guidelines and considerable local administrative initiative. Admissions to the mental hospital in Shanghai reveal that 83% are young acute schizophrenic cases and very few are neurotic or non-psychotic. This distribution stands in great contrast with admissions to mental hospitals in the West, as is the case in Canada, where schizophrenics represent only 12% of all first admissions to mental hospitals and non-psychotic or minor conditions amount to two-thirds. An impressionistic survey of Chinese traditional medicine rooms in general hospitals revealed that a good proportion of their cases (60-70%) are diagnosed as suffering from minor organic or vague organic conditions without evidence of organic pathology and which in the West would be considered as neurotic or psychosomatic conditions. Outside the institutions, in the communes of the rural and urban areas behavioural, interpersonal and family problems are not defined specifically as mental health problems, but handled within the moral and political ideology prevalent in the country. None of the general hospitals visited had a psychiatric unit, but every patient in every hospital or health unit in the cities and countryside received a combination of traditional Chinese medicine (herbal preparations, acupuncture and moxibustion) besides the Western or modern type of treatment. Officially mental illness is not considered a major problem and it is given very low priority in medical school curricula or in the planning of health services. It is concluded that psychiatric services in China are concerned primarily with cases of psychosis and severe neurosis, that neuroses are viewed as general health problems, and personality and behaviour disorders are considered social or community matters.

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