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Yang sheng, care and changing family relations in China: About a ‘left-behind’ mother’s diet

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Drawing on my mother’s yang sheng (养生, life-nurturing) practices through food consumption as an autoethnographic ‘vignette’, this article seeks to tease out the different layers of sociocultural meanings underpinning a ‘left-behind’ ageing mother’s changing diet. It brings to light the underlying gendered embodiment of food practices articulated through changing family relations (that is, a left-behind mother and an absent son). This is of particular salience within the context in which issues of ageing and care for older family members have become of major public concern in contemporary China. The article highlights the relational accounts of food practices as care, imbued with shifting personal relations within the family, which are intertwined with social and historical transformations. In particular, it develops some critical insights on food practices that are beyond an individual’s reflection on self-responsibility for health. Thus, it illustrates how intergenerational family care and love are facilitated through the negotiation with everyday materiality and its practices in China.
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Keywords: China; care; family; food; mother–son ; shen ti; yang sheng

Affiliations: University of York, UK

Appeared or available online: November 2, 2018

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