You might assume Zhao envies members of the younger generation, able as they are to pick and choose. But the 8,000 singletons on his files – from factory workers to company bosses – can attest that personal emancipation does not guarantee happiness. China’s breathtaking pace of social change across six decades has left many bewildered as well as liberated, with an ever-expanding range of options – but few safety nets. The advance of capitalism has brought soaring inequality and dismantled the country’s common sense of purpose.
Relationships between parents and children, husbands and wives, friends and neighbours, and families and the wider community, have changed almost beyond recognition. This transformation raises intimate questions about people’s values; their understanding of love and duty. But it also creates immense practical challenges for individuals, households and – multiplied hundreds of millions of times – the state. Who, for instance, will pay for and care for the elderly?
The report includes a video.