China’s “Tortured Contemporary Psyche”
Drawing on his experience as a visiting professor in Chongqing, Gerard Lemos laments the anxieties faced by China’s masses under the rule of a Communist party plagued by divisions at the top and corruption at the bottom. From The New York Times:
I wanted to find out what was on the minds of ordinary people. What did they talk to one another about? So in 2007, with permission of the authorities, I put up billboards featuring images of trees, like the “wish trees” in Daoist, Buddhist and Confucian temples, where people tie notes about their private desires to the branches, hoping that the wind will blow their prayers to heaven. Chongqing residents stuck hundreds of their leaf-shaped notes onto the branches of my “trees.”
Their wishes and worries were candid, heartfelt and startling: people had lost their optimism and were yearning for security and freedom from anxiety. Income is a primary worry for those who have lost their jobs or land. Pensions and social welfare payments are almost nonexistent. People struggle to pay for education. They can’t afford medical treatment; clinics and hospitals require patients to pay cash in advance. A serious illness can spell financial ruin for an entire family.
China’s one-child policy has turned family life from a source of solace to a font of anxiety. Parents now get just one chance for a child to succeed and to support them in their old age. Single children carry an unbearable burden of parental and grandparental expectations.
In sum, a spiritual hunger has taken hold even as physical hunger has receded. Anxiety and resentment are turning people inward; the Chinese are being consumed by anomie, a listless sense that life has little meaning.