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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Why are the Chinese unhappy?

I've had some time to ponder about this for a while before I came across the following article (thanks Michelle) on why the Chinese are unhappy.

Perhaps before we even decide for ourselves the state of how things are now, and can be, we should all take time off to be grateful for how we got here. We're all sums of parts of long lines of survivors who made it through all manner of adversity, and what more the Chinese who are alive and thriving today? We just have to ponder the few thousand years of top-down imperial rule with the figurehead of the son of heaven determining outcomes of so many lives, all the famines and floods, the cultural revolution, the civil war, the century of Western penetration, World War II, the list is quite intense. We made it this far, and have plenty to be grateful for, for we are new in the line of amazing survivors.

With that view of things, perhaps we will refind what we truly need to be happy. Courage, and strength. Like our ancestors did.

"If I don't see that I am strong, then I won't be." is an inspired line from One Giant Leap. I think if we are all brave and very courageous, we'll spend less time being unhappy, and more time doing, and thus, be happy. I may be broadly myopic and dismissive of all the pragmatic details, but again, allow me a disclaimer that this is not a critique, it's a suggestion.


Why are the Chinese unhappy?
By Wang Shichuan
Published: July 27, 2009
Source - UPI Asia

Beijing, China — Beijing has come out on top among Chinese cities in a national poll measuring the “happiness index” of their residents. With 56 percent of its residents saying they are happy, the capital city beat runner-up Shanghai by 0.5 percent, according to Chinese media.

One may ask, what was the purpose of such a time- and energy-consuming survey aimed at measuring people’s happiness? Was it to provide policymakers with supporting data to laud their vanity projects, or just another boring game of producing figures? It’s puzzling.

Personally, the results of this investigation made me feel more worried than happy, as it exposed the numbers of people who are unhappy. Even in the country’s “happiest” city, Beijing, the survey shows that nearly half of the citizens describe themselves as not happy. Those who are happy only slightly exceed those who are unhappy; this is nothing to be thrilled about.

Actually, rather than focusing on those who feel happy, it would be better to research what makes people unhappy. If Beijing is the happiest city in China, then which city is the unhappiest? And why do the people living in the unhappy cities feel that way? All of this requires further examination.

Not long ago a Chinese book came out with the title, “China is unhappy.” It drew a lot of attention. Some claimed that in truth it was not China, but the Chinese people who are unhappy, which I consider correct.

I have read that among Chinese who travel abroad, the smiles and relaxed attitude of people in other countries often make the biggest impression on them. Chinese who travel often find that various people with different skin colors, languages and occupations have one thing in common – they smile and appear relaxed. Especially when making eye contact with foreigners, they tend to smile as a form of politeness and to show their sincerity, one article said.

In China, however, people rarely smile. When we walk on the street we tend to encounter gloomy, listless and apathetic faces. Also, in an international study of 20,000 people from 22 countries, only 9 percent of the Chinese surveyed said they were happy. The figure was 36 percent for the British, 37 percent for Indians and 46 percent for Americans.

Why aren’t Chinese people happy? This is surely a big issue that cannot be explained in a few words. It varies with each individual, also.

Roughly speaking, the main points are the high pressure of daily life; the huge gap between rich and poor; inadequate social security; difficulties in obtaining education, housing and medical care; poor quality food and environment; lack of respect for civil rights; serious corruption; and no outlet for injustice and resentment. These are the reality for most of the population. Facing these problems, it’s not easy for Chinese people to be happy.

Although China’s economy is booming in recent years and material life is improving, the people’s happiness is not guaranteed. Is this because of their insatiable desires, or because of their growing awareness of their rights?

In fact, if economic development cannot bring about social security, and if the problems of corruption and the gap between rich and poor cannot be solved, then becoming happy will remain only a wild wish.

Those people who do feel happy under such circumstances will be only the few who have vested interests in the state’s reforms. For example, the public servants who enjoy abundant social security and the senior executives who receive yearly salaries of several million yuan from the state’s monopoly enterprises – they are certainly happy.

One study has shown that among all professions in China, those who work for the government and state-owned enterprises as well as the leading cadres of the state monopolies have the highest happiness rating, at 66 percent.

If there are many external factors that contribute to the people’s feelings of unhappiness, this is abnormal and should be pondered. Perhaps now making efforts to let the Chinese people afford a comfortable life is the most fundamental condition to enhance the happiness index.
(Wang Shichuan is a media critic based in Beijing. This article is translated and edited from the Chinese by UPI; the original can be found at ©Copyright Wang Shichuan.)