Sometimes when I sit down to write my daily blog post, I find it hard to find something nice to say about China. It takes a few minutes (occasionally a few hours) to find a topic that I can at least add a little silver lining to.
Apparently though I’m not the only one who is having a hard time coming up with something nice to say, a recent poll showed that only 6% of the people who responded to an online survey described themselves as happy. It also revealed that 40% of the respondents thought there was a direct correlation between money and happiness (sadly they are not familiar with the proverb “Mo’ money, Mo’ problems”).
Granted, the survey size was pretty small, but I think this lines up fairly closely to a lot of the attitudes I have heard in these last few months, especially with the rising cost of food, rent, gas…everything. (Note: there was a survey earlier this year that showed 45% happiness, but this was not anonymous so it may have been like the survey I mentioned yesterday)
The real fun comes when the article tries to put a positive spin on these depressing results. “But it was not all bad news. About 36 percent of respondents said their lives had improved during the past five years.” That’s right; the good news is that only 2/3 of the population didn’t think their situation had improved.
This might seem shocking to those of you who have visited China’s major cities, where we have seen nothing but construction for the past 5 years. Even a friend who has been living in China for almost 20 years said that these last 5 seemed like the most frantic in terms of development.
A quote from a young woman living in Shanghai better reflects the sentiments I have heard over the years from so many of my Chinese friends, “More than one-third of my salary goes to the rent and the rest has to cover transportation and food. In the end, my disposable income is almost nothing.”
This happiness deficit has suddenly moved up the priority list for this week’s meetings of the gov’t. It seems that they may adopt some version of a happiness measurement for moving through the political ranks. The gov’t would stop taking GDP so strongly into account and start looking at things like people’s disposable income, cost of housing, access to doctors, energy efficiency, and even forest coverage. This measure is already being used in parts of Henan province.
I think an adoption of some version of this measure would be a big step the gov’t could take to ensure “stability” over the next few years, as it would actually help monitor several of the concerns that I mentioned on Monday.
Happiness is subjective and I rarely trust polls in general. Though I did find it interesting that there was 40% who found a direct correlation between money and happiness. I suspect that is not limited just to China, either. But it speaks to a potentially larger problem about what makes people happy. I’m not sure that issuing gov’t directives will resolve that problem, either. If anything, I wonder if it is not some previous government directives that have led to the problem in the first place – but that requires a trip through history and not sure this is the proper place/time to do so.
I like the new directives precisely because they undo some of the old ones. Happiness is very subjective, and the happiness measure, doesn’t actually ask people if they are happy, but looks at a variety of measures instead of just GDP for promoting officials.
To be honest, I’m surprised it wasn’t more than 40% saying that money=happiness. There don’t seem to be the kind of warnings against greed here, or at least people don’t talk much about them. Instead we hear “Heaven is high, and the emperor is far away,” meaning something like you aren’t going to be caught so just go for it.
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I don‘ if you read some of the questions to Wen Jiabao when he was “chatting” last weekend. The majority of posts were mainly complaining about low living standards, low salaries, housing prices etc.
I have read quite a bit about his chat. So far there is a lot of talk about how these are great concerns, but little about concrete actions.
Peter Hessler, who lived in China for many years, says in his latest book “Country Driving, A Chinese Road Trip” that he did not know any Chinese couple with a happy marriage. This seems a very desolate view of Chinese society. Arranged marriages may be relegated to the past but couples seem to marry with rigid expectations and very little emotional intelligence. Girls who do not marry by the age of 30 are “past it” and the obligatory child had better be a boy! And what about the expectations of parents that their daughter’s husband has the 3 H’s – Higher education, High earnings and Height!!!! The happiest Chinese couple I know has bucked the trend – she is six years older than him. But her parents were not pleased – he was too young and too poor!
There is one more requirement now for marriage, an apartment. A woman last year on a Chinese dating show got in some hot water for saying “I’d rather be crying in a BMW than smiling on the back of a bicycle.”
I don’t know if there is a better way to say this, but it seems like happiness and love are not necessarily a part of what people think of when they talk about marriage.
I don’t remember the source at the moment but came across something a while back relating to how divorce rates in China are increasingly rapidly and how part of the cause for this may be due to a generation of only children who have been spoiled by family members and who have little or no concept of the sense of compromise that is necessary to a successful marriage. Even more frightening (depending upon your point of view) was how the children of such marriages are wanted by neither side in the case of a divorce in many cases. I realize this is somewhat tangential to your original post but was reminded from reading the responses to your post.
It’s a long story for another day, but I worked in a horribly dysfunctional school, and most of the children were from divorced families. Maybe next week I’ll look at Chinese versions of family.
A friend of mine is the mistress of a rich Chinese peasant – her family know nothing of this. I cannot fully understand her mind set. I try not to be too judgemental but she well knows my feelings. He treats her partly like a servant and she is afraid of his bad temper. She is clever and is completing his MA. She says this is OK as the college is not strict!! There seems to be a level of conscience missing here that is widely relected in China today.
Yes, morals are something I might touch on eventually, but it’s a very tricky subject when you try and talk about it from a perspective outside of their culture. However, I don’t think many Chinese women think highly of mistresses, and colleges aren’t strict for the most part.
Yes, Tom. Please write about Chinese versions of family. It is a fascinating subject. I notice that China Daily recently published a report of the 800 divorces last year in Shunyi, an affluent district of Beijing. 75% were initiated by women but what surprised me was the fact that the Divorce Court is starting to consider women’s claims to money spent on mistresses, especially where property is concerned.