Koro among the Southern Chinese and Archipelago Islands

I chose Koro as my culture bound syndrome. I found an article in the American Journal of Psychiatry about the sociocultural study of Koro epidemics in Guangdong, China. Koro is defined as a culture-based syndrome characterized by panic due to fear of genital retraction. The disease has been primarily reported among southern coastal China and the many archipelago islands around as well as Malaysia and Singapore — who both originally were populated from southern Chinese. The inhabitants of these islands are predominantly peasants or fisherman and because they lived in such rural areas they were generally not well educated. Their lives are still considerably influenced by ancient beliefs in gods and ghosts and they still hold on to special sex related beliefs that have to do with the traditional concept of Yin-Yang and the theory of harmony and store of vitality.  They believe semen is a precious substance and that “every 100 grains of rice make 1 drop of blood and 100 drops of blood make 1 drop of semen” They believed a man should limit his sexual desires and activities because losing a lot of semen would weaken the mind and body.

A majority of the cases  involved men and 60% of the total cases the subjects had brief panic conditions that usually resided for 20-60 minutes some had second panic attacks and some had multiple and when the panic episodes stopped most subjects recovered completely. This article was examining sociocultural factors that led to Koro epidemics in these regions throughout the decades. A huge factor to the contribution of these epidemics was from the panic and  hysterical atmosphere of the community that intensified the fear and facilitated the spread of more panic.  The authors concluded that because of its geographical seclusion and widespread local cultural beliefs and practices they have prevented the spread of the panic syndrome to other areas of the Guangdong province and have confined the epidemics of Koro to the local isolated regions for several decades.

Tseng, Wen-Shing, Mo Kan-Ming, Jing Hsu, Li Li-Shuen, Ou Li-Wah, Chen Guo-Qian, and Jiang Da-Wei. “A Sociocultural Study of Koro Epidemics in Guangdong, China.” American Journal of Psychiatry 145: 1538. http://www.sociodep.hku.hk/bbf/BBF%20Readings%20W5/W5%20Sociocultural%20Study%20of%20Koro%20Epidemic.pdf (accessed July 18, 2014).

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Delisa Quayson says:

    Culture to me is a way of life of a people. It is a vital part of a community, dictated by their beliefs, practices and language. It is how the people identify themselves and are identified by others. I also believe that culture is dynamic. Culture is continuously borrowing and lending to and from other cultures without altering their fundamental values. The Hmong people I wrote about in my reflection article have a culture that includes the belief in spirits and should and have a taboo against common western medical practices. I don’t believe that their disapproval of medical practices like surgery are as ancient as their culture but it became assimilated into the culture probably based on some beliefs they already had. I think that Koro qualifies as a culture bound syndrome because it is based on a belief of a people. They think one should not partake in sexual activity excessively and have thus attributed a reason to it. They have placed a value on semen. They say it takes 100 drops of blood to make one semen and 100 grains of rice to make one drop of blood. Rice is probably a valued commodity amongst them (Asians have a stereotypical fondness for this grain) and thus linking this in measurement to semen ties its importance with their culture. This syndrome can help decrease the rate of sexual promiscuity in their society. In another culture, like mine for example, the Ghanaian culture, excessive sexual activity is also discouraged but not my measuring its value materially but spiritually. Sex is believed to establish a bond between an individual on earth and in the spirit realm. This association tends to make people more wary of whom with and when they engage in such activities because it is believed that not all spiritual bonds are good.

  2. James Conwell says:

    I believe that culture is the sum of a group of people’s beliefs, feelings, traditions and practices. A society’s culture is largely based around social norms, and the niche that they occupy to survive. For example, I understand that there are little resources for firewood in Asian countries, so as a result, the food is cut smaller, so it would cook faster, thus minimizing the amount of fuel necessary for the cooking. Further, the culture reflects what the society values, and many of a nation’s laws reflect the spirit of the culture. For example, in the United States, the laws emphasize the importance of personal property, which is a reflection of a basic tenant of American culture: personal freedom and responsibility. Culture is a changing system, reflecting new knowledge, and perhaps new values–such as the changing views on recreational drugs and drug laws in the US.
    Koro definitely qualifies as a Culture Bound Syndrome. The people that believe in Koro, believe that semen is vital, and that losing it will weaken someone’s mind and body. Further, the attitudes of the culture, such as a tendency for anxiety and panicking, coupled with such a value on semen and sexual abstinence, results in Koro being localized to Southern China and the Archipelago Islands. I suppose that the intended purpose of valuing semen is to limit sexual promiscuity, and it may be part of the culture, because narrow sexual practices may be the survival niche that these people have found.
    I’m not sure that there are many advantages to Koro. I suppose that its fear may limit sexual promiscuity, but when I think of fear-based sexual education in the US, it is relatively ineffective. Guilt, and a lack of quality education to teach about sex is problematic, as it may lead to mental health problems regarding sexuality. In fact, it seems that fear of genital retraction, instead of education on why it is happening, will not lead to the desired effect. It seems more disadvantageous to have Koro be a part of a culture, as opposed to educated sexual activity.
    I think that Koro could be explained in a different ethnomedical system. In the United States, for example, concern over genital retraction, or value of semen, could be put into the context of religious reasons that one should remain abstinent from sexual activity until married. It may be considered a sin to have sexual activity out of wedlock, which also places an emphasis on keeping semen, for reasons other than semen is valued to the culture. If individuals began to have panic attacks regarding a loss of vitality, it may be explained by guilt from breaking a religious and cultural norm, or for perhaps committing a ‘sin’, or in an extreme view, punishment for sinning.

  3. Shardae Herriford says:

    Culture can be defined based on a persons views on life. Which could be various things such as to their beliefs, morals, and spiritually. The society that someone grew up in affects all of these. For example, someones belief continues to become their own because they were taught, so they continue the traditions through generations each time. Many times people are biased on traditions other may have, however if their born in that society it would be normal for them. I think that this shouldn’t be considered a Culture Bound Syndrome because it seems to be a psychological illness. The advantages is that its not just in their culture but also in others around the world. The disadvantages are there doesn’t seem to be a curable. So their personal lives are affected by this. This condition be explained in a different culture by stating that this doesn’t necessarily have to be viewed as a sexuality. For example if having a bigger genitalia for a man in that culture, it might mean that they are wealthier. So the problem maybe they are stressing and believing that their genitalia is getting smaller from stress possibly causing this syndrome to occur. Causing this to affect their quality of life.

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