2012 New History
P. O. Box 1-44, Nankang, Taipei 11529, Taiwan, R. O. C.
02-2782-9555 # 226

‘This All-Important Job of being Human at the Present’:
Bingham Dai’s Lay Psychoanalysis

Wen-ji Wang

Department of History, National Taipei University

Bingham Dai (1899-1996) has been considered the first lay psychoanalyst in China. His psychoanalytic practice at the Division of Neurpsychiatry at Peking Union Medical College from 1936 to 1939 has recently drawn much attention. Commentators tend to associate Dai’s psychoanalytic practice with the work of his supervisor, Harry Stack Sullivan. The context of Dai’s introduction of psychoanalysis into China and the cultural implications of his career are yet to be analysed. Dai’s work was part of the famous project of ‘the Survey of Race Relations’ conducted in the early twentieth-century American West Coast. Sociologists such as Robert Park and the Chinese- and Japanese American scholars and informants they recruited launched a series of extensive studies on the subjects of racial relationships, the encounters between cultures, migrations and assimilation. Sullivan’s interpersonal psychiatry as well as the discourse which these American sociologists utilised to construct the Orientals and other minority groups remained essential to Dai’s later career.

As western social sciences began to be systematically introduced into China during the 1920s and 1930s, psychoanalysis was perceived by some contemporary Chinese scholars as a major school of modern psychology. In the meantime, in the face of profound social and political changes, the educated Chinese experienced difficulty in adapting to stressful circumstances and developed a tendency of self-marginalisation. Western psychology and psychological medicine provided both bodies of scientific knowledge to probe into the newly modernised self and technologies of constructing new citizenship. At Peking Union Medical College, Dai conducted several cases intensively, with the view to bring forth Chinese personality structure and the patient’s pathological reactions to familial, political and other social difficulties. In so doing, Dai modified the theories put forth by the leading psychoanalysts. The influence of Sullivan and Park is also shown in Dai’s mid-century studies on the personality development of ‘Negro’ children and that of other minority groups.

The present study aims to put the first Chinese lay analyst’s life work back to its historical and intellectual context. Dai’s career is also an excellent test case for analysing the transmission of psychoanalytic knowledge and practice.


Keywords: Bingham Dai, China, psychoanalysis, intellectuals, history of science