Friday, June 13, 2008

Deposed Little Emperors?

I'm seeing something of a pattern develop in my blog posts. NYTimes articles, China

It's been a day and a month since the 5/12 earthquake and I wished I had said something about this earlier but I have finally gotten around to it now. Though there has been much coverage of the earthquake, this article in from The Guardian, "Sichuan earthquake: Tragedy brings new mood of unity", will suffice to highlight some of the things I noticed about the earthquake response.

The outpouring of volunteerism surprised everyone. As in America, volunteers are generally people who can set aside some time and money (in lost income). This requires a certain amount of privilege. In China, this is generally college students because only the very smartest students can enter elite colleges and only their parents can pay for them. Zhang Qiyu interviewed in the article is a student at what the article called "an elite university in Beijing" and there are many in the capital. These examples in the Guardian article and others I have read give me great optimism that volunteerism will continue.

In recent years much of China has become many times wealthier, which would suggest that there should be more people giving up their time and resource for others with no material benefit. But since the early 80s, urban dwellers have been prohibited from having more than one child per couple. I've heard a lot of criticsm of this population policy, that singletons are selfish and coddled by the attention of many grandparents and relatives, that it will strain the public social security system as all nations will low birthrates have a small workforce to support a large aging population. A journalist coined these singleton children "little emperors". So now the one-child generation ismaturing, going to college, and entering the world. By these examples of young people being involved in their community, I hope it will calm some of the concern about this competitive and self-centered generation.

I also hope that mental health will be given more weight in China as well. As part of the earthquake efforts, psychologists were available as well as physicians. There is in no way China has nearly enough psychologists, psychiatrists, and therapists to serve all the people's needs. In addition, it will take much time and effort to dimish the stigma of mental illness and to make people view mental illness as a legitimate condition.

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