In its Social Service Development Statistical Bulletin, the Chinese government recently reported that the national divorce rate soared to 2.67 percent in 2014, compared to 1.05 percent in 2003, and 0.4 percent in 1985. The renowned Chinese magazine Banyuetan (半月谈) interviewed couples about their reasons for divorce in June, concluding that the mass adoption of social media across China is mostly responsible for the rising divorce rate in China. A lot of couples think that social media has turned them away from each other.
The report also stated that Chinese social media apps such as Weixin (微信, WeChat) and Momo (陌陌, Chinese ‘Tinder’) have made it easier to reach out to people, which has messed up a lot of marriages.
On Sina Weibo, over a dozen of media, including People’s Daily (人民日报) and Global Times (环球时报), recently took the topic online to initiate a discussion amongst netizens on whether social media is the killer of marriages in China.
“Social media have made having an affair so easy.”
User AkiraHunter commented: “It’s really not easy to maintain a relationship or a marriage. In my opinion, social media is a major problem. WeChat, Momo and Century Love (世纪佳缘) have become key tools when it comes to hooking up. Social media have made having an affair so easy.”
Other users, however, do not believe that social media are the biggest reason to trigger divorce. Some think that the higher divorce rate can be explained by the social progress and growing gender equality in China.
“I don’t think social media are to be blamed for the high divorce rate. It’s rather just a medium for expressing human thoughts and desires,” says user Night of Anhui Sound: “The divorce rate in China would have kept rising without the existence of social media too, as society is making more progress and genders are more equal. Women now know how to protect themselves in cases of domestic violence or extramarital affairs.”
User Arale1 added: “We used to think that divorce is a shame for women. A lot of Chinese women put up with a dead marriage for the sake of their children, and because they needed financial support from their husbands. But nowadays, women don’t really need men to support them, as many women start to make more money than men. We have realized that we shouldn’t discommode ourselves anymore. Getting divorced is not the end of the world. On the contrary: it could be the beginning of a new happy life.”
“Nearly 40% of marriages in Beijing end in divorce.”
It’s worth noting that the comments above only apply to women in urban areas, where the divorce rate is much higher than in rural China. Nearly 40 percent of marriages in Beijing end in divorce – a remarkable peak compared to the national divorce rate of 2.67 percent.
Chinese women in big cities and urban regions now have more opportunities for higher education leading to well-paid jobs, which makes them financially independent. Young women in China don’t need to rely on their husband to support them anymore. Thus, money is no long the reason for not getting a divorce.
In rural areas, however, people are still not that tolerant of divorce. Many women are forced to stay in a broken marriage in order not to ruin their families’ reputation. It would also be more difficult for a divorced woman in rural China to find another man who is willing to marry her.
Another factor that cannot be neglected in this issue, is the China’s one child policy (独生子女政策). The post-1980s generation (80后) has been raised as an only child in the family, without having a siblings to interact with. This so-called “me generation” is often described as being selfish, impulsive and unwilling to compromise. Their parents urge them to get married, and then interfere with their marriages. The combination of these factors seems to be a major contributor to the higher divorce rate. According to the Ministry of Civil Affairs, of all couples filing for divorce in 2014, those born in the 80s had the highest divorce rate. “Lightning divorce” (闪婚闪离) has specifically been a trend among this ‘me generation’.
“We didn’t want to compromise, so we just got divorced.”
Unlike the dating culture in most western countries, Chinese couples usually do not live together before they decide to tie the knot. Typically, they date for a year or two – going to the movies, having dinner, occasionally having sex in a hotel room, or taking a few short trips together. Then the parents start to pressure them to get married. Some young women choose to get married in order not to become ‘leftover women‘ (剩女).
“Parents and other relatives won’t give you enough time to figure out with whom or when you want to be married. They believe it’s time to do it when you reach certain age. They pressure you so hard! We got married shortly after dating, and then realized we don’t even share the same values in life. As the only child in the family, no one wanted to compromise, so we just got divorced,” confesses Weibo user Kianase.
“Getting divorced for two dollars.”
In addition to the above reasons, the easy procedure and low cost of getting divorced in China also cause rising divorce rates. Before 2003, a reference from either the employer or a community leader was required for applying for a divorce. Many couples would not consider divorce due to the humiliating process. But now the rules have changed, and this is no longer needed. Unlike couples in other countries that are required to separate for a period of time before they can legally file for divorce, separation is not required in China. Couples can quickly, easily, and privately file for divorce. The divorce fee is less than two dollars and even free of charge in some cities.
However, these procedures are, again, changing. Some local civil affair departments have just launched the new policy of “limited numbers of divorce” (限号离婚), in hopes of decreasing impulsive divorces. Citizens in Guangzhou posted on Sina Weibo that they have to wait for at least a month to file for divorce.
The new policy finds online support. As the user Yefuping says: “Some government working efficiencies should be improved, while others should be slowed down. The speed of processing divorce should definitely be reduced, so that couples have some time to think twice before they sign the papers.”
©2015 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Anorexia in China – Same, But Different
What’s on Weibo gives an overview of how anorexia nervosa is discussed in China and on Chinese social media.
“Does anorexia exist in China?” is one amongst the millions of questions recently posted on the Chinese Quora-like platform Zhihu.com. It is a question that pops up on Chinese social media every now and then, as the eating disorder is not often discussed in a Chinese context.
The empty dialogue page on Zhihu.com is telling for the general discussion of anorexia in China today. Anorexia nervosa, commonly called anorexia, is an eating disorder characterized by low weight that receives relatively little attention on Chinese online and social media compared to the English-language online environment, where there are countless support groups, discussion forums, and even the so-called unhealthy ‘Pro Ana’ communities where the behaviors related to anorexia are promoted.
Both anorexia in general, and the pro-ana communities in specific, received ample attention from Western media over the past few years. ITV recently reported about an “alarming rise in social media sites encouraging anorexic sufferers to starve themselves,” and that social media worsens the condition of people with anorexia who flock to these kinds of websites.
A “WESTERN” PHENOMENON
“Eating disorders seem to be an exotic phenomenon to many Chinese, but it actually is not.”
General discussions of anorexia nervosa on Weibo, China’s biggest social media platform, mostly relate to cases of the disease in Western, Caucasian women. The young Australian model and performer Phoebe Combes attracted some attention on Weibo in 2017 for suffering from anorexia. “How come every time I read about [this disease] it concerns foreign women?”, one netizen wondered.
Sporadically, speculative discussions do arise on social media about Chinese celebrities who may or may not be suffering from anorexia. Talk show host Chen Luyu (陈鲁豫), for example, became a topic of discussion when netizens started worrying about her frail appearance and said she was “too thin.”
For many netizens, however, the issue is often simplified to a mere “they should just eat more.” Despite general public unawareness about anorexia in China, more doctors and specialists are stepping forward to talk about the issue.
“When a Chinese doctor raised the issue of anorexia in China some twenty years ago at an international conference, foreign experts doubted if eating disorders existed in China,” one professional support site dedicated to anorexia and bulimia in China says: “We now want to promote awareness about eating disorders to patients and their families.”
In 2017, deputy director Ma Yongchun (马永春) of a hospital in Tongde, Zhejiang, spoke out to Chinese media website AcFun.com, saying that although eating disorders seem to be an exotic phenomenon to many Chinese, it actually is not. She also warned about the negative effects of social media platforms promoting unhealthy body images or unhealthy eating patterns.
THE STORY OF YUN
“Her condition spiraled out of control when she spent days on end watching live streams on Chinese social media that promote unhealthy eating habits.”
The AcFun article featured the story of one of Ma’s patients named Yun (alias), a 33-year-old former athlete from Zhejiang who weighed only 36 pounds with a height of 160 cm when she was at her lowest point – and on the verge of death.
She told AcFun that she became anorexic after being forced to eat a restrictive diet by her grandparents during her teens. When her entire athlete team suffered from gastroenteritis, her grandmother only allowed to her to eat bean curds and rice for months on end.
Unable to continue eating her forced diet and not allowed to eat anything else, the young Yun developed an eating disorder. At the age of 19, she was diagnosed with anorexia by doctors at the Tongde hospital – a diagnosis that was followed by years of ups and downs. Yun’s condition spiraled out of control when she spent days on end watching live streams on Chinese social media that promote unhealthy eating habits.
Weighing only 36 pounds at her low point, Yun was barely able to move. One day, when she was alone with her sister’s small baby, she found herself too weak to pick up the infant went it was desperately crying. For Yun, it was a turning point in her decision to beat the illness.
Although many doctors gave Yun low chance of survival, a team of doctors including Ma Yongchun eventually were able to give Yun the help she needed. She now maintains a healthy weight.
UNHEALTHY ONLINE TRENDS
“Vomit Bars are online forums where netizens nicknamed ‘Rabbits’ encourage each other to vomit after eating.”
Doctors such as Ma Yongchun are part of a growing group of specialists in China raising awareness on eating disorders in China and warning against unhealthy online trends – which are on the rise.
Over the last years, online discussion boards such as Baidu Tieba have seen the phenomenon of ‘Vomit Bars’ (催吐吧) – a phenomenon somewhat comparable to the online ‘pro-ana’ movement on English-language internet sites.
‘Vomit Bars’ are online forums where netizens nicknamed ‘Rabbits’ (兔子) encourage each other to vomit after eating. Several live streaming sites also have people promoting weird or unhealthy eating habits, such as eating non-food products or binge eating – something Dr. Ma strongly condemns.
On Chinese social media, organizations helping those suffering from anorexia or other eating disorders are present, but not popular.
Although the Chinese Eating Disorder Recovery Web (@进食障碍康复网) only has a weak following online, their offline mission is strong: “China’s health care system can no longer ignore the growing group of eating disorder patients in China.”
ANOREXIA ON THE RISE OR NOT?
“There are no official statistics on the occurrence of anorexia nervosa or other eating disorders in China in the past and present.”
The topic of anorexia in China has also received more attention in international media and academic publications over the past decade.
Some English-language media, such as the LA Times, suggest that with changing beauty standards, skinny trends, and more influence from Western popular culture, eating disorders are “on the rise” in China.
Whether or not this is actually true is hard to say; there are no official statistics on the occurrence of anorexia nervosa or other eating disorders in China in the past and present. A study from 2013 among Chinese female college students in Wuhan, considered one of the best estimates of national rates, however, found levels similar to Western countries (Tong et al 2014).
In Fat China: How Expanding Waistlines are Changing a Nation, the authors (French & Crabbe 2010) also suggest that eating disorders such as anorexia are indeed present in society and that an increasing number of urban Chinese, mainly young women, are suffering from it (171).
Even if anorexia were to occur as much in China as in the West – which has neither been refuted nor confirmed – the way in which the disease is described and/or experienced seems to be significantly different.
SAME DISEASE, DIFFERENT MANIFESTATIONS
“Chinese patients showed few, if any, of the classical concerns associated with anorexia.”
Various studies over the past years have established that there are differences between Western countries and China in how anorexia develops with regards to patients’ preoccupations concerning appearance and body image.
In “The Myth of Chinese Barbies: Eating Disorders in China including Hong Kong” (2014), researcher M. Getz writes that eating disorders are traditionally conceptualized as a Western mental health issue, specifically because the ‘fat phobia’ aspects of the illness are often stressed the most. According to study, this attention towards appearance seems to be less important to Chinese patients (746-747).
This idea is further strengthened by Sing Lee, an expert in eating disorders in Chinese communities, who argues that Chinese patients “showed few, if any, of the classical concerns associated with anorexia” (747).
A major way in how anorexia in China is often different than in other (Western) countries is that it is somaticized. This relates to the fact that mental illnesses in China still carry a stigma and often go undiagnosed due to the lack of mental health care institutions.
Since physical problems are more socially accepted in China than mental health issues, people who suffer from anorexia in China are more prone to talk about their problems in the form of somatic symptoms such as distaste for food and not being hungry, or abdominal problems (Getz 2014, 750).
Levels of industrialization, media influence, eating habits, societal pressure to be thin, family pressure to succeed, etc., all may play a role in the occurrence of anorexia. Especially One-Child Policy generation children allegedly experience more pressure in their lives to perform.
As the development of anorexia in China goes hand in hand with social stigmas and superstitions regarding mental health issues, a traditionally strong food culture, a general unawareness on eating disorders, and many other cultural factors that may influence the manifestation of the disease, one can see why studies have found that “eating disorders are not culture-bound or culture-specific, but rather culture-reactive.” The reasons why patients develop anorexia and how it is manifested can, therefore, radically differ per culture (Pike & Dunne 2015).
“I simply can’t eat any food. I have no interest in food. Even if I am starving I still do not want to eat.”
These findings are also apparent on the various anorexia support message boards in China, where people suffering from the disease share their experiences. Rather than talking about fear of being fat, many commenters only discuss their loss of appetite and stressful lives.
One netizen on Zhihu.com writes:
“I am suffering from anorexia right now. The pressure at school is too much for me. I don’t have any time to relax. It’s all about studying. I simply can’t eat any food. I have no interest in food. Even if I am starving I still do not want to eat.”
Another person writes:
“I think I have anorexia. But I am not sure. (..) I simply do not want to eat. If I see food, I have no desire to eat it. I only eat some breakfast and some dinner, an egg at 7.30 and some rice at 17.30.”
A new study on anorexia in China by Zaida Aguera et al (2017) confirms the idea that anorexia in Chinese patients is often experienced or communicated physical rather than psychological, as they are “culturally encouraged to use denial and minimization to cope with conditions deemed taboo” (9).
Because the way anorexia presents itself is different, researchers argue that its treatment also requires a different approach in China than in other countries that have developed own national standards on treating eating disorders.
The treatment options in China, however, are still limited. The first and only closed ward for eating disorders opened in Beijing six years ago. But the recent increased media attention raised by doctors such as Ma Yongchun and heightened focus on mental health care in China indicate that there will be more options for Chinese anorexia patients in the future.
As for the Zhihu poster who asked about anorexia in China – they are still waiting for an answer. In the meantime, they have suggested an own solution in the underline, writing: “There just is so much tasty food in China, that anorexia in China is probably is much rarer here than in any other country in the world.” No one else responded.
Agüera, Z., Brewin, N., Chen, J., Granero, R., Kang, Q., Fernandez-Aranda, F., & Arcelus, J. 2017. “Eating Symptomatology and General Psychopathology in Patients with Anorexia Nervosa from China, UK and Spain: A Crosscultural Study Examining the Role of Social Attitudes.” PLoS ONE, 12(3), 1–13.
French, Paul, and Matthew Crabbe. 2010. Fat China: How Expanding Waistlines are Changing a Nation. Imprint: Anthem Press.
Getz, M.J. 2014. “The Myth of Chinese Barbies: Eating Disorders in China including Hong Kong.” Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing 21: 746-754.
Pike, Kathleen M., and Patricia E. Dunne. 2015. “The Rise of Eating Disorders in Asia: a Review.” Journal of Eating Disorders 3:33. Available online https://jeatdisord.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s40337-015-0070-2 [17.1.18].
Tong, J., Miao, S., Wang, J. et al. 2014. “A Two-stage Epidemiologic Study on Prevalence of Eating Disorders in Female University Students in Wuhan, China.” Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology 49(3): 499-505.
Are you suffering from an eating disorder and need help? For information on eating disorders and how to help if you are worried about someone, Beat (UK) or ANAD (US) has advice for sufferers, friends and family.
Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.
©2018 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at email@example.com.
Remembering San Mao – the Bohemian Writer That Captured the Hearts of Millions of Chinese
27 years after her suicide, bohemian writer San Mao still strikes a chord with Chinese netizens.
In a time when Beijing’s first fast-food restaurants opened their doors, people were hooked on Teresa Tang’s sweet voice, and television sets entered Chinese living rooms, pirate editions of books by the wildly popular Chinese author San Mao first started spreading all over mainland China.
Before this time in the late 1980s, the female author was already a celebrity in Taiwan and Hong Kong since the 1970s; not just because of her many books, newspaper columns, song lyrics, and public lectures, but also because of her free, cosmopolitan, and “legendary” life that captured the imagination of many Chinese eager to look beyond their own borders.
Researcher Miriam Lang (2015) describes San Mao as “one of the first mass media celebrities in the Chinese-speaking world” (440).
On January 4th 2018, the 20th-century writer became a trending topic on social media when various media commemorated her. Chinese state media outlet People’s Daily dedicated a post to the iconic author on Weibo, titled “Today, we cherish the memory of San Mao.”
People’s Daily writes:
“She was born in Chongqing, moved to Taiwan, studied in Spain, and settled in the Sahara. All of her life she pursued freedom and touched the hearts of many with all of her words. Her love-story with Jose stirred people’s emotions. Her mother said that maybe her life was not perfect enough for her, but we now know that her life-long pursuit of her dreams has already become romantic legend. Today, in 1991, writer San Mao committed suicide.”
Besides that the post itself attracted thousands of comments and was shared nearly 3800 times, many other media outlets and netizens also posted their own commemorations to the author on Weibo. One post by the Communist Youth League received more than 100,000 comments on January 4th.
“She was the first author I really loved,” one person comments: “Whether she was in the Sahara or Madrid, the way she describes her love has become like a little gemstone in my own life.”
A Woman Writer Named Chen, Echo, and San Mao
San Mao is known as the wandering writer. Throughout her life, she moved from place to place; a life pattern that already started forming in the early years of her childhood.
San Mao was born in Chongqing, China, in 1943. Her parents, mother Miao Jinlan and father Chen Siqing, named their little girl Chen Mao Ping (陈懋平). Chen, however, later preferred to be called Chen Ping, and gave herself the English name of ‘Echo’ to honor her painting teacher. Once she started writing, she used the pen name San Mao (三毛), which is how she came to be remembered.
San Mao’s early years took her from wartime Chongqing via Nanjing to Taiwan, where the 6-year-old girl had trouble fitting in at school. She preferred reading books over doing schoolwork, and while she read literary classics such as Don Quixote at an early age, she failed in mathematics and received low grades.
After a teacher at her Taipei school embarrassed her in front of her classmates by drawing a ‘0’ grade on her face and making her parade around, she refused to continue her classes there and was home-schooled by private tutors and her own father, who was a lawyer (Chen 2007).
After studying Philosophy at the Chinese Culture University in Taiwan, the 20-year-old San Mao set out to broaden her horizons and moved to Spain, where she enrolled at the University of Madrid. It was the start of her bohemian lifestyle, that brought her from Spain to Germany, from the Sahara Desert to the Canary Islands, and from Central and South America back to Taiwan.
San Mao experienced many adventures but also had to face many difficult times. Her first great love whom she was to be married to, a German teacher 19 years her senior, died of a heart attack when San Mao was 26 old.
Ten years later, her Spanish husband Jose Maria Quero Y Ruiz, whom San Mao lovingly called ‘He Xi’ (荷西) and with whom she had spent six years in the desert, tragically died during a diving accident.
Miriam Lang, in her study of San Mao (2015), describes her as “unusual for a woman of her time and place”; she traveled far from home, married a non-Chinese man, and remained childless. Nonetheless, Lang notes, San Mao was also traditional in that she represented herself as a “happy housewife” while married, and expressed conservative feminine values in her books (443).
Although San Mao published her first book at the of 19, she did not really gain fame until the release of her first book The Stories of the Sahara (撒哈拉的故事) in 1976. This work revolves around San Mao’s personal experiences in the Sahara desert together with her husband Jose (Ying 2010, 162).
An Unhappy Ending
In the decade following her husband’s death, San Mao first set out on a 6-month journey to America but then traveled less and finally settled in Taiwan in 1982, where she started teaching literature and creative writing at the Chinese Culture University.
Being a celebrity, her classes were always packed – students lined up to attend her lectures.
In 1989, she first visited mainland China again since her childhood, where she started working on the screenplay of Red Dust, a love story set during the Sino-Japanese war. Although the film eventually received much acclaim – even winning the prize for Best Film at the Golden Horse Awards of 1990 – San Mao received criticism for creating a “too positive picture” of the leading male character, who was perceived to be a traitor to the Chinese nation (Lang 2015, 442).
Despite all of her activities in her later career, San Mao never parallelled the success she had with her stories about the Sahara. In 1990, San claimed she had won a literary prize in Spain for novella written in Spanish, but the work appeared to be non-existent (Lang 2015,442).
In early 1991, San Mao admitted herself to a hospital in Taiwan where she was tested for cancer. The results turned out negative, but San reportedly asked the nurse for a sleeping pill for the night and asked her not to wake her (Chen 2007).
San Mao ended her own life by hanging on January 4, 1991, at Rongmin General Hospital. She was 47 years old.
Father Jerry Martinson, a Jesuit priest who knew San Mao for years as the brother of her close friend Barry Martinson, told UCA News two weeks after her suicide that San Mao “desired to escape from her fame’s pressure and emotional entanglements, and to reunite with Jose (..). His death was a trauma in her life.”
He also said that Antoine Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince was San Mao’s favorite reading: “At the end of the story, the Little Prince wanted to go back to his planet, reachable only through short suffering.”
Throughout her life, San Mao visited over 54 countries and wrote a total of 26 complete works (Chen 2007; Lang 2015, 442; Huang 2017). An English translation of her work Stories of the Sahara (1976) is expected to be released by publishing house Bloomsbury in 2018.
Online “San Mao Fever”
The suicide of San Mao generated a new wave of “San Mao fever” in the 1990s. And now, more than two decades after her death, the Chinese celebrity still has major appeal to social media users, who post her quotes, photos, and audio segments.
“How I love San Mao,” one person writes: “Her every word is just immersed with her wisdom.”
But not all commenters are equally positive. Some say that San Mao is representative of a time when Chinese women “blindly followed” western values, adoring foreign men.
For the majority of commenters, however, San Mao is a name that brings out new inspiration or old memories. “Whenever I think about her stories from the Sahara, it just moves me.”
One Weibo user honors San Mao by posting one of her quotes*:
“Often, I asked myself, what is distance? Then I heard my own answer, saying that distance is what I desired most in life – that it is freedom.
A freedom far, far away, like the air.
At that moment, I realized that I had slowly released myself from all the things I didn’t need that were binding me to my life. I then thought: I can go to the most remote corners of the earth if that is where my heart wants to go.
It was in that moment, that my freedom had finally arrived.“
If you are interested in this story you might also be interested in reading the story of Li Xianglan, the superstar who was caught between China and Japan during the Second Sino-Japanese War.
The Stories of the Sahara (in Chinese) can be purchased from Amazon:
The story of the Sahara (Chinese Edition)
The complete works of San Mao can also be purchased in Chinese online:
The Complete Works of Sanmao (Chinese Edition)
iTunes also offers The Stories of the Sahara in Chinese:
Sources & References
Chen, Shaoshua. 2007. “San Mao – Taiwan’s Wandering Writer.” Women of China, November 30. http://www.womenofchina.cn/womenofchina/html1/people/writers/8/8989-1.htm [4.1.18].
Huang, Echo. 2017. “The brave, tragic adventurer who inspired generations of Chinese girls to adopt her nickname.” Quartz Magazine, April 24. https://qz.com/963273/the-world-traveling-writer-san-mao-inspired-generations-of-girls-to-adopt-her-nickname-echo/ [4.1.18].
Lang, Miriam. 2015 (2003). In Lily Xiao Hong Lee and A.D. Stefanowska (eds), Biographical Dictionary of Chinese women – The Twentieth-Century 1912-2000. London/New York: Routledge.
Treichel, Tamara. 2013. “The Echo Effect.” Global Times, March 10. http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/767044.shtml [4.1.18].
UCA News. 1991. “PRIEST SAYS WRITER WHO COMMITTED SUICIDE WANTED TO BECOME CATHOLIC NUN.” UCA News, February 21. https://www.ucanews.com/story-archive/?post_name=/1991/02/19/priest-says-writer-who-committed-suicide-wanted-to-become-catholic-nun&post_id=32086 [7.1.18].
Ying, Li-hua. 2010. Historical Dictionary of Modern Chinese Literature. Lanham: The Scarecrow Press.
Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.
©2018 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.