Welcome to “Pine Tree Hall”

Welcome to “Pine Tree Hall”: An ethnography of caregiving for the elderly in Beijing

Shika Card

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Abstract

Drawing upon ethnographic observations from Songtang Guanhuai Hospital, the first institution to offer hospice care in Beijing, China, this paper is an anthropological examination of caregiving for the elderly within a contemporary, urban Chinese context from the perspectives of patients and both professional and familial caregivers. Taking a phenomenological approach to anthropology, this article explores how Chinese individuals approach the illness experience, the aging process, and the end of life of elderly family members and patients, and aims to understand the particular Chinese cultural ideologies of caregiving for the elderly. By focusing on the notion of “sensibility,” or that which allows each individual to experience in her own way the challenges and realities of moral experience, I argue that not only is the practice of caregiving a fundamentally intersubjective process, but moreover that the experience of giving care in a Chinese setting is intersubjective in culturally specific ways. Through ethnography it is possible to examine how subjectivities are shaped and how intersubjectivity is experienced within the Chinese context. This article demonstrates how the active commitment to and the moral presence of caregiving emerges in the lives of Chinese individuals amidst the confusion, messiness, and deep uncertainty of the aging process and the end of life in China.

Keywords: Aging, caregiving, China

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