Nowadays, Chinese people feel less alone, but lonelier. They check their cell phones every few minutes, view updates on friends’ microblogging sites, and feel down when they do not receive immediate replies to their emails.
These are 12 kinds of loneliness that Chinese people face. Most are sad, but not all are bad.
1. Relying on technology rather than each other
In December 2000, artist He An set up a neon light box on a street in Shenzhen with a message that read: “Miss you! Please call me at 013701059553”. The message prompted hundreds of calls from strangers.
Likewise, in October 2011, Jeff Ragsdale, an American who just broke up with his girlfriend, posted his number all over New York City. He surprisingly received tens of thousands of calls from people from all walks of life. Some were soliciting products, others were hunting for a one night stand, others hoped to discuss thoughts with him, and still others who were lonely called to not only show their support, but to also seek comfort.
Digital identities can reveal much about an individual compared to their real-life persona that imparts a unique familiarity among Internet users. An encounter with a stranger in real life may reveal a long-term friendship that occurred online. Moreover, one of the initial responses after meeting someone for the first time is to add their online contact information to our accounts. This is in addition to the multitude of other task that we perform on-line. We can even carry on intimate relationships on the Internet.
2. The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence
People use Instagram or similar apps for transforming an otherwise ordinary picture into an appealing one in order to gain the admiration of others. MIT professor Sherry Turkle calls this behavior “presentation anxiety.”
The Internet world is full of similar anxieties. Almost everyone online conceals the more gloomy aspects of their lives, instead emphasizing the positive attributes. Women are especially sensitive about their online persona, only relaying special experiences and comparing enviable details of their lives with others.
Consequently, the more time spent watching other people’s seemingly carefree and happy lives, the more depressed one feels. Sherry Turkle states that people pay an emotional price for checking into information about their ex-friends, ex-spouses, or former colleagues, and should stop this harmful practice because of the emotional consequences.
3. Seniors without company
In China, the age old belief that adult children should support their elderly parents is eroding. The typical situation today calls for the elderly to stay at home to take care of their grandchildren while their children work.
Also, many elderly in China lose their social identities and experience decreased social activity once they retire. This past Chinese New Year, a 68-year-old senior in Dalian was home alone. She felt so lonely and bored that she kept flushing the toilet for two months, wasting 98 tons of water.
4. One child
In the past, most Chinese people grew up in a large circle of family and friends, whereas today, one’s entire life is characterized by a small circle of immediate family members and limited contacts outside of the home.
Most young people today are the only child, and not only do they have no siblings, but they also have few relatives outside of their immediate family. Every child is on the top of the 4-2-1 family structure—with four grandparents, two parents, and one child.
Because of the one child policy, parents will stop even a little roughhousing with their children in order to prevent them from getting hurt. The infrequency of their interaction with other children for the same reason impedes the development of important social skills. Because of changes in the social fabric of China, people grow up caring little about others and more about themselves. As a consequence, extreme self-centeredness is leading to a desolate and isolated existence.
5. Far from home
At the 2012 Boao Forum for Asia, Terry Gou, founder of electronic manufacturer Foxconn, said that if they had unreasonable requirements for their employees, they would not have three applicants competing for one position.
The truth is that many migrant workers in China can only find exhausting and low-paying jobs on assembly lines. Most assembly line workers grew up freely in the countryside, and for them, working in a factory deprives them of their freedom, limits their private time away from work, and fails to satisfy their basic need for human companionship. In some Dongguan factories, the problem of gender disproportion was so great that a single man dated several women simultaneously. Female workers are often abandoned when pregnant, many of whom were quite young when they left their hometowns to work in the factories.
6. Lack of love
The average marrying age has risen continuously. In 2011, there were 2.17 million single women and 2.7 million single men in Taiwan. As a result, many young people cannot find their Mr. or Mrs. Right. Even Lin Chiling, a model and actress in Taiwan, said that time, and not guys, are chasing her.
The risk of losing one’s love after a few years always exists. When the passion begins to fade, the woman accuses the man of not keeping his promises, and the man blames the woman for her changes. As the relationship sours, both long for happier times when they were single.
7. Absence of trust
How much does the cunning behavior of Chinese people cost society? Crafty businessmen sell problematic products, such as gutter oil, fake honey, tainted baby milk formula, and dyed meat, to unsuspecting consumers.
Profiteering businessmen are often complicit with each other in fraud. Once the crimes are reported, they claim innocence by blaming the unspoken rules of industry. Food is unsafe, diplomas are forged, charity events are held falsely, reputations are hyped, and people are increasingly suspicious of everything and everyone.
8. Concrete jungle
Modern buildings invade the landscape of China’s cities. An apartment number in a high-rise building symbolizes the new concept of a home. People lose the opportunity to interact with others when locked behind their burglar-proof doors.
The landscape is increasingly populated with modern geometric architecture that demonstrates both superficial ostentation and a cold emptiness. The destruction of ancient neighborhoods and the eradication of a way of life leave many people feeling lost and desolated, as if they were on the Moon. The authorities, however, are only concerned about traffic flow, whether street lighting is enough, and preventing crowding around entrances.
9. Becoming famous
The singer Eason Chan felt so isolated after becoming famous that he refused to ride the subway. He became frightened of people and could no longer interact in society.
On microblogging websites, there are two kinds of people who will friend you—the ones who are your fans, and ones who hate you. A Weibo follower of Taiwanese television host and writer Kevin Tsai mentioned him in her posts 325 times, attempting to get him to reply. In contrast, Taiwanese actress Shu Qi had to delete all of her posts because of Internet “trolls,” people stirring up arguments or slandering her.
The more famous one is, the stronger one’s heart needs to be. Once one surrenders themselves to pressure, they will be destroyed by accumulated negative energy. Fan Bingbing, an actress and producer in China, stated that as long as she could endure all the insults she had suffered, she deserved the same number of compliments.
10. The artist’s process
The writer Rainer Maria Rilke secluded himself from the world when working. Celebrated novelist Garcia Marquez said: “To think that a million people would read something written in the solitude of my room, with 28 letters of the alphabet and two fingers as my sole arsenal, seems insane.”
The process of creation can be stunted unless the creator conquers the terrible loneliness that they may be suffering.
After winning the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2012, Wang Shu said that he had been researching the field for many years and felt lonely sometimes on the road. However, he believes that if you’re sincere and diligent about the work, and stick to your dream, you’ll surely see it pay off.
11. Autism and depression
There are approximately 67 million autistic cases around the world. In developed countries, the number of people with autism has increased sharply over the past 20 years. In 2001, there were 70,000 autistic patients in Guangzhou and the number continues to rise.
Scott Selleck, a Pennsylvania State University professor, stated that genetics and environment are both contributing factors leading to the condition of autism. Autism is not caused by lack of attention; rather, it is a disorder. Similarly, depression is not as simple as once thought.
The Chinese singer Yang Kun, who has been wrestling with depression for six years, said that one part of him was eager to interact with others, but another part was anxious to be alone.
12. Cultivate your mind
On March 26, 2012, diving into the 11 kilometer deep Mariana Trench aboard the deep-sea Challenger, movie producer James Cameron claimed that he experienced real desolation, a feeling that submerged his entire body and soul.
Today, many Chinese people are unwilling to tolerate loneliness, preferring easy and shallow entertainment. Many cannot tolerate stress from others and would rather sacrifice their freedom than lifestyle, friends, and values.
People need to take time to be calm and reflect inward in a quiet place. Even though they may at times feel lonely when searching the true meaning of life, in the end, their efforts will be rewarded.