I had the privilege as an American to be a visiting professor at an elite school in China for 7 years…As a Chinese American I fully understand and appreciate why we have many social problems in contemporary China…the roots are in THE ONE CHILD ONE FAMILY POLICY for the past 40 years or so. The old child policy has tainted many aspects of the social behavior in China…from over anxiety why my only daughter or only son is still not interested in marriage in their late 20s or so, to some young people literally deciding to boycott going home for the most important national holiday in China to avoid embarrassment because their parents and relatives would persist in prying into their private lives and lack of interest to find a partner for life, to renting a male or female to take home to impress your parents about your future partner in life, to the continued rising prices of housing in China because some parents and grandparents are willing to pay high prices for apartments for their ONLY BELOVED heir to their family line, to increased marriages and divorces because the little emperors and princesses never did learn to share and live together with another single son or daughter, to continued disinterest in the affairs of the nation because past experiences for many had taught them to avoid talking about social or economic or political problems because whatever they had tried only brought suffering and torture. (Opinion piece for a newspaper in China) Peace, Steve, USA Feb 4, 2019 firstname.lastname@example.org
This Lunar New Year, let’s have fewer questions about our private lives and more discussion of society’s ills
• Audrey Jiajia Li says Lunar New Year gatherings can be a harrowing time for single women and those without children, who are grilled on their lifestyle choices. More difficult questions about events in the public domain, however, are always avoided
Saturday, 02 February, 2019 audrey jiajia li scmp
The Lunar New Year is around the corner. For many 30-something women like myself and my girlfriends, the thought of the upcoming reunions inspires a mix of excitemeand anxiety. While we look forward to catching up with relatives and friends, many of us dread the annual ritual of being grilled with questions such as, “Are you still single?”, “How much does your boyfriend make?”, “When are you going to get married / have a baby?” and “Why don’t you have another baby, now that the one-child policy has been relaxed?”
This is a familiar scene at New Year family dinners and the gatherings that come after. If you are an unwed woman over 30, you may be called a “leftover woman” and treated like some errant alien desperately in need for rescuing. Married women who do not have children have it even worse, often having to endure lectures on how “a woman is not complete without a child” while trying to enjoy their meal.
The commonly accepted practice of prying into one another’s private lives in China is strikingly at odds with the indifference to matters in the public domain. The prevailing social etiquette is to stay away from anything sensitive – social justice, media censorship, individual rights and other issues of public interest. Across generations, parents and teachers tell the young that being interested in politics only leads to trouble.
Although occasionally there are committed activists speaking up on social issues – from air pollution and defective vaccines, to corruption and the lack of freedom of expression – beyond the limits the authorities tend to tolerate, in everyday life, even showing concern about these taboo subjects can make one the target of hatred.
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As a journalist who believes that the profession has an obligation to raise awareness and as someone curious about my ever-changing homeland, I’ve had my share of animosity from people around me, having been asked questions along the lines of “What’s wrong with you? Why are you so zealous about ‘those’ things?” Someone even went so far as to encourage my parents to knock some sense into me so that I’d do something normal, like giving birth to a child or two, instead of reporting and commenting on dangerous “pointless things”.
I used to think all societies were the same, until I started travelling around the world. I noticed that in many societies, including other predominantly ethnic Chinese territories such as Taiwan and Hong Kong, things are different. People there tend to care about public issues and are much more willing to get involved in civic engagement, they are passionate about playing a role in making society a better place, and, in the meantime, refrain from prying into each other’s private lives.
So why is mainland China so unique in this respect, even after over 40 years of modernisation and integration into the world economy? Noticeably, despite the great social transformation the country has undergone since the late 1970s, one thing remains unchanged: the climate of fear, which sadly has been an integral part of the nation’s collective consciousness. People drew lessons from the fate of the courageous individuals who dared to get involved in public affairs and openly voiced their dissent, and the seeming futility of such efforts throughout history. As a result, many withdrew from public life and turned to private pursuits; others just left China and sought a freer life elsewhere.
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Furthermore, the younger generation, which has been reared on the popular culture of materialism, shies away from public engagement. Sophisticated censorship has created a formidable barrier to information, filtering out anything unorthodox, such as debate over the tragic history of the early decades under the ruling party and more recent human rights abuses. Young people, growing up behind the Great Firewall, truly have no idea about anything that the government doesn’t want them to know, and their parents and grandparents don’t want them to get curious about taboo subjects, either.
This echoes a popular idea, embodied in the framed calligraphy of four Chinese characters by Zheng Banqiao, a Qing dynasty painter, calligrapher and poet, that is commonly seen in people’s homes – nan de hu tu, which literally means “lucky to be muddle-headed”, or “ignorance is bliss”.
In recent years, with increased censorship in China, almost all the hottest trending topics on social media have been celebrity news, largely concerned with dating and infidelity.
In the early 1990s, although China was still in the shadow of the 1989 crackdown, the West welcomed the country into the international community, in the hope that China’s political system would eventually evolve in a more liberal-democratic direction and lead to a more open civil society. The realisation of that fantasy would require an increasingly large middle-class demanding freedom and civil rights. That hasn’t happened, and with nationalist sentiments on the rise, it is unlikely to happen in the near future.
This Lunar New Year, my fellow millennials could try offering an unconventional answer to the question of why they are single or don’t have children: “Actually I care more about why we can’t have as many children as we want, about if our children will enjoy safe food and clean air without worrying about toxic milk formula, substandard vaccines and censored information.” But I’m sure they would immediately be viewed as unforgivable party-poopers and become outcasts. I know we are celebrating the Spring Festival, but why can’t we relish small pleasures and think big thoughts, too?
Audrey Jiajia Li is a broadcast journalist and non-fiction writer