An investigation of end-of-life care experiences of migrant peasant workers in China through discourses of filial piety.
Thesis DisciplineHuman Services
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
This research examines the experiences of migrant peasant workers in China who care for parents diagnosed with cancer, and explores to what extent contextual changes after economic reforms initiated in 1978 impacted practices and experiences of caring. Twenty four participants were recruited and participated in semi-structured. Documents and field notes were also utilised. I applied a Foucauldian discourse analysis that was complemented and localised by drawing on Chinese ancient philosophical traditions.
Data analysis showed that migrant peasant workers’ care experiences were highly associated with the discourse of filial piety, especially their experiences of care as responsibility and burden. In order to make sense of their care experiences, participants were found to utilise two important discourses (parental sacrifice discourse and forgetting discourse) to construct an ideal cultural norm of filial piety. These two discourses were closely associated with a (re)imagination of Mao’s era before economic reform. These two discourses were identified at not only individual but wider social and governmental levels.
Participants’ practices of filial care and commitment to filial piety were enacted in relationship with recent contextual changes that challenged filial care practices. Changes such as marketisation and urbanisation have led to fears that adherence to filial piety is diminishing in China. The findings challenged simplistic explanations of modernisation and its relationship to filial piety and demonstrated the complexity of coexisting (Western) modernity and Chinese philosophical and ‘cultural’ ways of living in contemporary China.
The research also critically examined current policies of facilitating family care in the name of filial piety. Participants as well as academics suggested that laws, such as the Parents Visiting Law, were of little help and lacked essential action/practice orientedness for facilitating migrant peasant workers’ filial caring. This led to a discussion of the importance of practicality and the place of action/practice in Foucault’s theories and in Chinese philosophies (Confucianism). Critique of government policies appeared somewhat difficult for participants and has also been muted in Chinese literature. Reflection on this led to a discussion of Foucault’s technology of self-care and parrhesia (telling the truth), and the Confucian concept of self-cultivation. From the perspective of the study of the human services, parrhesia can be seen as a way forward in terms of uncovering experiential truths so that policies can be more appropriately designed to provide help and assistance for rural (and other Chinese) family caregivers.
The methodological approach to the research was designed to be attuned to contemporary Chineseness and thereby makes an important contribution to culturally embedded methodological literature. By illuminating similarities between Foucauldian discourse analysis and Chinese philosophies, the thesis paves the way for future development of Chinese methodologies which might start from a Chinese philosophical position and borrow ideas from Western social theories, averting the necessity of taking the reverse approach that was adopted here.