Date of Award

Summer 8-15-2018

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



This dissertation investigates the moral experiences of drug users receiving addiction treatment in southwest China. The launch of a nationwide, state-run methadone maintenance treatment (MMT) program in 2003 heralded a transition from the criminalization of drug use to the medicalization of addiction as a kind of chronic brain disease in contemporary China. This new paradigm emerged from global public health interventions to reduce HIV/AIDS transmission. The large-scale MMT program aimed to facilitate drug users' Ҳeturn to societyӠby fulfilling both their biological and social needs: by providing methadone to fix their biological addiction to heroin while simultaneously building MMT clinics as caring environments to rehabilitate their relationship with society. Based on fourteen months of ethnographic fieldwork conducted between 2013 and 2016 in Yunnan province, China's ground zero in its People's War on Drugs, I argue that even addressing both biological and social aspects are not enough to understand what is at stake for drug users. Instead, we must understand methadone usersՠefforts to invent a "moralist self" (Yan 2017) in the face of extreme moral opprobrium. The transformation in drug control policy has suspended Chinese methadone users between competing arenas: within the public health realm where a medical explanation of addiction was promoted and a legitimizing identity of patienthood was conferred by the Chinese government; and in the broader society where drug-related issues have been deeply moralized since the late Qing dynasty and drug users continue to suffer from stigma and marginalization. This dissertation thus investigates how and why drug users have moralized their relationships with drugs, care providers, government officials, the Chinese state, as well as themselves. By studying methadone usersՠcomplex and often conflicting moral experiences, this dissertation contributes to a more nuanced understanding Chinese personhood and ultimately sheds light on a fundamental question in the anthropology of morality: җhat drives us to understand our lives in ethical terms?Ӽ/p>


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Priscilla Song

Committee Members

Peter Benson, Joseph Bosco, Rebecca Lester, Bradley Stoner,


Permanent URL: 2028-08-16

Available for download on Monday, August 15, 2118