While now it is often written off as a “pseudo”-scientific hoax, the widespread engagement with hypnotism (cuimian shu) in early twentieth-century China was integral to what was most self-consciously “modern.” Its early practitioners claimed to hold the miraculous cure for the spiritual and bodily ailments of the nation and positioned themselves as enlightened vanguards. The diffusion of the imported psychological knowledge of somnambulism and thought-transference was intrinsically bound up with the contemporary preoccupation with new dimensions of subjectivity and interiority as well as the politics of awakening. This study traces the variegated pathways along which the transposed knowledge of hypnosis acquired meaning in modern China and explores the desires and longings that the hypnotic thinking mobilized. Cuimian shu, I argue, provides us a focal point to explore the wider nexus of psycho-scientific, literary, and popular discussions about the configuration of the mind, channels of communication, and fantasies of intimate bonding.
Tie Xiao is an assistant professor in the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures. He is working on a book manuscript that examines the figure of the crowd in modern Chinese literature and visual culture.