Monday, 16 June 2008

Who in China Is Happy?

In an increasingly diverse and divided China, experts cite a new key distinction: those who are burdened by the expectations of others, and those who follow their own paths.

HONG KONG—Two decades of breakneck economic growth have left Chinese society divided against itself, into rich and poor, urban and rural, old and young, with implications for the happiness of individuals and the country as a whole.

She Jixiang of the Yunnan Mental Health Center was one of the earliest Chinese psychoanalysts and psychotherapists, as China under the late reformer Deng Xiaoping emerged from Maoist isolationism and the chaos of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76).

He said that while he saw no particular reason why having more money should necessarily lead to greater happiness and satisfaction, his many years of clinical experience have shown that richer people do feel happier than poor people in China.

"I think there's a difference between rich and poor, and countryside and city. If we are talking about what sort of people we get as patients, I think there are more poor people, actually," She said.

"They are naturally going to have more worries and anxieties as a result of the requirements that life puts upon them."

High property prices, healthcare costs, and school and university fees are all economic factors that increase the amount of pressure on the individual and affect overall happiness, She added.

Impatience cited

A Beijing-based psychologist surnamed Ning said Chinese people's overall happiness has been affected in recent years by widespread impatience, an approach to goal-setting entirely geared to material wealth, and a need to compete and compare well with others.

"Most Chinese people today are focused on money, wealth, material gain," Ning said. "They think that as long as they can achieve that then everything will be fine. They get their entire sense of life satisfaction from economic success right now."

"If that goes, they have nothing to fall back on," he said.

Rural-urban divide

A major schism in Chinese society now exists between the booming high-tech cities of China's eastern seaboard and the underdeveloped rural hinterland.

Recent studies of depression and suicide in China have revealed a unique social pattern: China is the only country in which the suicide rate for females is higher than for males.

Around 90 percent of Chinese women who end their own lives live in the countryside, where they have ready access to poisonous pesticides, and where, says She, they are oppressed under traditional family structures.

"I think one of the best indicators of happiness levels in the countryside as compared with the city is in the suicide rate, which is much higher in the countryside than it is in urban areas," She said.

But he added that if people are able to break out of rural life and venture into the big cities in search of work, further psychological problems await them.

"Someone who has grown up in the country and who has never been to the big city will, I believe, actually be a bit happier than their urban counterpart," he said. "There are not so many requirements attached to rural life. You don't need much to get by. They are more satisfied because there is less of a gap between what they desire and what they have."

"But when those same people go to the cities, they see rich people everywhere, and this boosts their expectations and desire for material gain and enjoyment of life. But someone from the countryside is unlikely to be able to realize such desires, which is a very painful state, and after that happiness becomes very elusive for them," he added.

Officials are satisfied

If rural women are the least happy people in China, then a series of recent surveys has shown government officials—the most empowered people in Chinese society—at the top of surveys of life satisfaction and well-being.

A poll in September 2007 for the Chinese-language Health magazine found that civil servants make up the happiest sector of Chinese society, followed by teachers and independent professionals.

And a recent Chinese Academy of Social Sciences survey found that government officials are the happiest, followed by intellectuals and upwardly mobile professionals including private entrepreneurs, independent professionals, and management-grade workers in foreign-invested companies.

Why are Chinese officials so happy?

"Well, political power is certainly a factor," She said. "But there are a lot of other benefits to the position, including opportunities for their children and access to resources that other people don't have."

In Western countries, doctors and lawyers are highly paid, he said. In China, this is also true, but professional standards are still struggling to meet the social challenges of the market economy.

"There is now a crisis of trust in Chinese society," She said. "The basic trust between people has been eroded. There is something of a crisis too between doctors and their patients...Sure, the salary is quite high, but doctors are not a very happy bunch of people."

Generation gap

Another major form of stress and social division, according to a number of interviewees, is China's generation gap: the difference in attitude between people born and raised in an era of cradle-to-grave socialism, and their children, who must make their way in today's highly competitive labor market.

While parents said they often struggled to find enough money to educate their children to give them the best possible start in life, in keeping with traditional Chinese values, children are increasingly at odds with their parents' world view.

China's young people, according to Ning, pursue goals of greater freedom, while their parents' generation is still influenced by traditional mores that dictate what direction they think their sons and daughters should take in life.

Ms. Wu, a white-collar worker in Beijing, said she rarely discussed career matters with her parents because of a gap in understanding between the generations. "I don't tend to talk to my parents about a problem at work because they are very unlikely to know how to handle it. I find it is better to sort it out by myself," she said.

Pressure on children

Meanwhile, the obsession with competition and success is already taking a psychological toll on the young and straining family relationships, She said.

"There are a lot of middle-income families putting too much pressure on their children, who go off the rails," he said.

"We are talking about the families of teachers, workers, policemen. Especially teachers. All the way through the kids' high-school years, the parents are pushing them to work harder and achieve more, and finally the kids can't take it any more and they start to have psychological problems."

Guo Xue'an, a laid-off worker from Yichun in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang, waved goodbye to his young son, who can't find a job in his hometown and is off to the booming south to find work.

"We don't ask much in order to be happy," Guo said. "We want to be able to support ourselves in life. We want our kids to get a bit of education. That's enough...if our children can't get an education, then how can they live?" he said.

Yang Yushu, the proprietor of a privately owned restaurant in Beijing, agreed. "The two biggest problems faced by ordinary people in China these days is what to do if they get sick, and where to send their kids to school," he said.

Dreams of others

Meanwhile, psychologist Ning said the Chinese tendency to live one's entire life according to the goals and expectations of other people doesn't always lead to happiness.

"There are many aspects to happiness. One shouldn't impose too many fixed expectations on life. That way, if things aren't going very well for you in one area, often there is an opportunity to compensate in another area," he said, urging young people to resist sacrificing too much of themselves to conform to collective demands.

"Or you can take the chance to broaden your direction in life, and to deepen your understanding of what it means to be human. This is a much more complete realization of one's needs as an individual. Life is not just about material success, nor even just about feeling happy. There are many more aspects to it than that," he said.

Original reporting in Mandarin by Bai Fan. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

Radio Free Asia

Editor aiding cyclone victims arrested by Junta

By Wai Sann - Mizzima News
15 June 2008

The Burmese military junta continues to harass and detain people and despite odds have gone out of their way to help victims of Cyclone Nargis. In its latest instance of intolerance it arrested a journalist on Friday, who had been helping survivors.

Zaw Thet Htwe, the former editor of a weekly sports journal was arrested in his home town, Minbu, according to a close relative according to a close relative who refused to be quoted by his name.

"They [local authorities] came and arrested him and blocked mobile phone connection," he said.

Zaw Thet Htwe was visiting his native town after delivering some kitchen utensils for cyclone victims in the Irrawaddy Delta.

No official reason has been given by the authorities. Nevertheless, Zaw Thet Htwe's arrest is thought to have a link with Zarganar's arrest last week.

The well-known outspoken comedian was arrested after his team was caught supplying food and shelter to cyclone victims. The authorities confiscated relief money along with the VCDs of records of his team's activities in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis.

It is not the first time that Zaw Thet Htwe has been arrested on November 2003 . He was charged with sending reports to the International Labour Organization and sentenced to life imprisonment. However, the Supreme Court quashed the sentence later against him due to pressure from the ILO.

Till date, it is not known where he has been taken. His home in Rangoon was reportedly stormed by the special police and his phone connection was also cut off.

Some reports said he was being detained in an interrogation camp in Rangoon after being transferred from Minbu Township.

Red Cross welcomes special cyclone support

Australian Red Cross CEO Robert Tickner today warmly welcomed a special contribution by the Government of South Australia to aid victims of Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar(Burma).

Mr Tickner also acknowledged the generous support of the Australian community while recognising the South Australian government's special donation of $200,000 to aid victims of the disaster cyclone.

'We sincerely appreciate this strong financial contribution from South Australian Premier Mike Rann,' Mr Tickner said.

Mr Tickner said the Government of South Australia showed 'very timely humanitarian spirit' in helping meet the massive needs in the recovery efforts for families and communities affected by the cyclone.

'This special contribution will help extend a hand to people who survived the original cyclone trauma but are now extremely vulnerable. It recognises that, as neighbours, we are able to help in times of dire need.'

Mr Tickner said there was a desperate requirement for basic shelter as well as access to clean water and first aid in the country.

Over the last few days, Red Cross flights have managed to reach the Yangon region carrying over 35 tonnes of shelter materials and supplies.

Red Cross officials estimate that by Friday (16 May) a total of 180 tonnes of Red Cross aid will have arrived in Myanmar.

Mr Tickner praised the work of Myanmar Red Cross aid workers and volunteers currently distributing life-saving relief items to affected families including drinking water, clothing, food and emergency shelter.

The Myanmar Red Cross network covers the country with key branches in the most affected areas with more than 19,000 staff and volunteers able to help in areas including first aid and relief activities.

To donate to the Myanmar Cyclone Nargis Appeal 2008:

- make an online donation
- phone 1800 811 700
- send a cheque or money order to PO Box 2957, Melbourne, 8060
- at any branch of the Commonwealth bank

Donations to the Myanmar Cyclone Nargis Appeal 2008 will:

- support the relief and recovery needs of households and communities affected by Cyclone Nargis, including clean water, emergency shelter and household items
- send specialist aid workers to assist in the Red Cross response
- assist Myanmar Red Cross in preparing and responding to this and future emergencies

Australian Red Cross will deduct no more than 10% of any donation for an international Appeal to cover its appeal costs.

Should the funds raised exceed the amount required to meet the immediate and longer term needs of the people in the affected areas, Australian Red Cross will direct the excess funds to other emergency preparedness and response initiatives in the Asia Pacific region.

Available for interview:
Or for further information:
Lachlan Quick, National media coordinator
m: 0412 912 378

Relief Web

Damage from dams

Editor - Sunday's San Francisco Chronicle aptly illustrated the problems inherent in large dam projects with its coverage of the planned Salween dams in Burma and the Xalalá Dam in Guatemala ("Villagers fear dams are bid to grab control of land," June 8).

The problems in Burma and Guatemala are sadly emblematic of most, if not all, of the large dam projects now being undertaken around the world.

While expanding their authority, government officials and dam builders invariably pay little heed to the future of the people to be displaced from their homelands. The benefits of leaving rivers undammed - such as preserving traditional livelihoods and cultures, aquatic ecosystems and maintaining free-flowing rivers - are rarely considered.

The real beneficiaries of these dams are not the displaced or even the general population of the nations involved. In Burma, the profits are likely to go to the military junta rather than to the local people. In Guatemala, the real beneficiaries of the Xalalá Dam will be the U.S. corporation AES (if it wins the project contract) and other foreign companies, as well as the banks whose loans generate revenue in interest payments.

The Chronicle is to be congratulated for pointing out the risks and dangers of rampant dam building. The United States has learned painful lessons from damming our own rivers and today far more dams are being decommissioned than built in this country. Perhaps the United States, for once, can set a good international example by encouraging dam decommissioning and discouraging the development of destructive large dam projects.

TIM KINGSTON, International Rivers, Berkeley
San Francisco Gate

NDPCC member inspects rehabilitation tasks in Ngapudaw Township

Yangon, 13 June - Member of the National Disaster Preparedness Central Committee Minister for Mines Brig-Gen Ohn Myint met with commanding officer of local battalion and those in-charge of construction companies, officials and USDA members at the control office of Pyinkhayein village, Ayeyawady Division in Ngapudaw Township on 9 June and gave instructions on rehabilitation tasks of storm-hit villages, progress in repairing schools, arrival of power-tillers and agricultural equipment and health matter.

Source: Relief Web

Dodging the Junta

by Suzy Khimm
An ad hoc grassroots aid network in Burma
has had some success working
around the country's repressive leaders.

(TNR) - Over a month after Cyclone Nargis devastated Burma's southern coast, the country's ruling junta continues to restrict international efforts to assist the disaster's victims, so domestic ad-hoc groups are taking the lead in funneling aid through back channels. The organization of these impromptu relief efforts speaks to the surprising resilience of civil society in a brutally repressive environment, showing how, despite the junta's stranglehold on Burmese society, grassroots networks and alliances have emerged within the country.

Though the junta has attempted to commandeer every level of the relief effort--backed by its legions of foot soldiers in the army and police--some local groups have found detours around the blockades, helped by ground-level officials willing to look the other way. On a Wednesday afternoon last month, a group of volunteers visited a makeshift shelter in Shwebaukan, an area in the outlying districts of Rangoon. Inside a government school--the only concrete building in the neighborhood--500 homeless cyclone victims were huddled, "being threatened by the local army guy [who was saying] that they could not stay there for long," according to a Western expatriate who accompanied the group. The military man turned out to be a member of Suan Aa Shin, the local "brute force" contingent. Two days later, the victims were evicted from the school, left to patch together lean-to shacks from the wreckage of ruined huts.

Despite the clampdown, no one stopped volunteers from returning to the area the next weekend to pass out rice, beans, and oral rehydration solution to the evicted residents. The volunteers were able to do their work because they had an established history with area leaders. Before the cyclone, they had worked on educational activities in the neighborhood, building local ties. "Local authorities are in many ways our biggest allies," said Beth Jones, program director of the Foundation for the People of Burma (FPB), a U.S.-based humanitarian group funding some of these grassroots relief efforts. "They sit on these [township] councils, participate in military activities on occasion. But there are people who have hearts and minds, concern for their fellow citizens. They're the smokescreens between the small civic groups and the higher-ups who don't want any of this going on, on the ground."

Since coming to power in 1962, Burma's junta has maintained an unyielding grip on the country's politics, media outlets, schools, public gatherings, and commercial industries. Over the past decade, however, it has conceded limited opportunities for humanitarian and educational activities to take place. Alongside a small number of international NGOs, a loose network of local advocates and community leaders has conducted public health campaigns, cultural programs, and religious activities. The regime has maintained a harsh and capricious attitude toward these civic groups, frequently cutting off access and closely monitoring their members. But their work has been provisionally tolerated, if not openly embraced, so long as the groups steer clear of politics.

Burma's monks have frequently served as the first point of contact for any grassroots-level initiative (along with their Christian and Muslim counterparts in ethnic minority communities). Among the first to be seen clearing trees after the cyclone, the monks have joined in supporting the ad-hoc relief effort. Despite the crackdown on monasteries following last year's mass demonstrations, a number of powerful local abbots have leveraged their ties with government officials to pave the way for distributions of food, clean water, and medicine, one volunteer in Rangoon reported.

Within a week of the cyclone, a coalition of local religious leaders, ethnic minority groups, student unions, labor organizers, and artists distributed aid to some 4,000 victims and quickly expanded ongoing relief to over 70,000 people. The volunteers described the junta's attempt to intensify its control of aid handouts, confiscating supplies and cutting off access to the devastated southern Delta region. International aid groups may be easy marks, but local volunteers and civic groups have also been targeted. FPB has received ongoing reports of interference by military personnel and police. Outside one of the makeshift refugee camps in Rangoon's satellite communities, "a soldier informed us that we could not give supplies to the shelter, and should instead give the money and food to a local government official," a local volunteer said in a statement released last month by the FPB. In another instance, an armed official confiscated the notebooks of local volunteers who were trying to create a census of the dead, Jones says.

In response, the ad hoc coalition has continued aid delivery under the cover of night--at times quite literally. On Saturday, May 10, one team attempted to bring clean water and medical supplies to a small hospital in one of the devastated towns beyond Rangoon. (The organizers declined to specify the exact location.) The hospital, one of the few operating in the region, had victims with broken bones and gangrenous-looking wounds waiting in a line that stretched past the doors. None had received treatment within in a week's time. The medical director tried to hurry the volunteers away, saying "You can't do it right now, you can't do it right now or they will take it away--please come back after dark," the group reported. Later that evening, the volunteers snuck back into the hospital to drop off the supplies.

Burma's civic groups and community leaders have spent years learning how to maneuver around such crushing restraints. "They have faced controls on their movements, on goods and money, on their general freedom for so long, they have learned how to rely on some of these backdoor and relationship systems," said Jones. "They know how to get things done in this environment." Because most foreign aid workers still face visa blockades and are prohibited from entering the hardest-hit regions, the coalition has recruited local doctors and nurses to tend to victims. Only a modest flow of aid from abroad has been allowed into the country, so the volunteers rely on well-connected businessmen to procure chlorine tablets and temporary toilets from local suppliers. Low-level military officers helped secure access to the Irrawaddy Delta, the epicenter of the disaster. And the civic groups have turned to blogs and fundraising newsletters to convince potential donors that their contributions won't go straight into the hands of the junta.

Given the magnitude of the devastation, however, even the most enterprising and resourceful grassroots efforts can only go so far. By the government's count, 134,000 people have died or are missing, and the U.N. says that 2.5 million are still in need of aid. The logistical hurdles of reaching the entire Delta region are beyond the scope of any small-scale operation. But though their reach may be limited, the ability of civic groups to persist with their work is evidence that the junta's control is less than total, according to Bridget Welsh, a Southeast Asia expert at Johns Hopkins University. "The fact that they let them have a space, that they have let people act, shows that [officials] on the ground believe the military is not capable of addressing the issues," She says. Such cooperation between local officials and organizers "serves to build trust and networks that bridge divides in the community that the military foster to hold onto power."

In the long run, these kinds of internal networks and linkages are key to any hope for a more open society. As Joshua Kurlantzick argued on this site, neither popular revolt nor international condemnation has led the junta to budge in the past. Over the past month, the generals have acted true to form, limiting foreign aid for fear that "destructive elements" will undermine their grip on the state. By working outside of official channels to deliver humanitarian relief, domestic civic groups have created unlikely alliances within Burma's highly militarized and stratified society: between monks and low-level officials, Delta villagers and city residents, community organizers and military cronies. However precarious these relationships, their potential impact should not be discounted. For ultimately, some analysts say, the catalyst for long-term reform will have to come from within the regime's ruling cadre itself--prompted not only by internal discontent among officers, but also by sympathy for other factions of Burmese society. "The military's mid-level officers would need to see that people are all are suffering, the same as them," says U Win Min, a Burmese exile and political analyst based in Thailand.

In the meantime, the recent disaster has created some small opportunities for Burma's fragile civil society to reconcile with the army. In the cyclone's aftermath, "[the military] even neglect their own," an expatriate in Rangoon said by email last month. "As I passed some soldiers cutting trees yesterday, I asked if they'd eaten breakfast. Of course not! So, I went back home to get them some bread."

Suzy Khimm is a writer based in New York.