The following was translated and edited from an article that appeared on the Chinese news site Huanqiu.com. It discusses the results of a recent survey on workplace stress by international business service provider Regus, which names China, and in particular Beijing and Shanghai, as the most “stressful” country in the world. The article speculates on social phenomena that may have led to the current national stress epidemic, as well as some common but dangerous psychological issues that tend to stem from it.
As if to explain why China’s “Golden Week” has become a yearly national nightmare for traffic jams, the results of a recent survey by Regus, an international business support group, indicate that China’s office workers may be the most “stressed-out” in the world. Out of a total survey sample of 16,000 workers from 80 countries and regions, 75% of mainland Chinese (No. 1 worldwide) and 55% of Hong Kong workers (No. 4) reported feeling more stressed this year than last year, both well over the global average of 48%. And according to the survey, Beijing and Shanghai are the two most stressful workplaces in the world, with 80% of Beijingers and 67% of Shanghainese reporting an increase in stress levels.
Main escapes: mass travel, shopping frenzies, online gaming
As crazy as the recent “Golden Week” was, 80% of Chinese workers cited “travel” as their top method for reducing stress.
28-year-old Wang Lin, an employee at a foreign company in Beijing, however, prefers to let off steam through orgiastic shopping sprees. Wang, who lives with her parents and without a car or boyfriend, bemoans her lack of either amid her parents’ nagging about when she’s going to settle down and have children. Hence her only solace is the thought of an exotic international vacation. Sadly, that vacation never materialised this National Day holiday. Instead, Wang maxed out three credit cards on 30,000 RMB worth of expensive clothing, purses, and jewellery. Wang feels no regret for her irrational shopping spree—she says that spending a few days shopping under a clear blue sky makes her feel beautiful, happy and rich, letting her forget all of her cares if only for a moment.
“Honey, I know I did wrong; I know I shouldn’t get addicted to online games. But honestly, I’m not addicted to the games themselves; I just find it hard to deal with the stress of life and work.” These were the words one Mr. Li wrote in a letter to his wife, the first time in two years that he opened up and shared his true thoughts and feelings. Li’s wife Ms. Zhang cried as she read the letter: “He’s gone through several jobs and nothing has gone well for him; finally he just gave up and started playing these games at home, not speaking.” In 2011, Chinese Internet users numbered 513,000,000—the highest in the world—making the Internet another major source of stress relief in a very stressful country.
Money: the root of all stress
So what are the causes of all this stress that needs relieving? “Work”, “personal economic situation”, and “pressure from supervisors” are the three leading causes of stress listed by Regus survey participants—though these are all really just the underlying factors of a deeper cause: money.
“Insatiable economic development.” As scholars have noted, historically capitalist countries have been on their way to industrial and economic prosperity for over 500 years, whereas China has been forced to cram half a millennia of development into 30 years—no doubt the source of many growing pains and psychological issues stemming from growing expectations and tighter schedules.
“A lagging social security system.” In a world where fewer children are expected to take care of more parents, the pressures, come middle age, to care for both your child’s upbringing and your aging parents’ medical expenses have grown immensely, putting strain on national assistance programs as well as individual families.
“The burden of bringing honour to one’s ancestors.” In the West, children are encouraged to study hard to become productive members of society, whereas Asian education systems instil the added responsibility of bringing honour to one’s family. This, according to Xia Xueluan, sociologist at Peking University, forces students to feel like they must score higher than all their classmates, and forces workers to feel like they must get promoted higher than all their colleagues, lest they be labelled ambitionless by finger-wagging elders.
“Lack of spiritual outlet.” Li Xinying, assistant professor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, points out that a lot of Chinese suffer from insomnia, anorexia, and stomach pains, choosing repression over trying to uncover the root of their problems. Lacking basic knowledge of psychology, many workers who need it will refuse psychological counselling, choosing instead to hold it all in, or to release it in quick, angry bursts.
Stress can lead to overworking, anxiety, clinical depression, and suicide
During the 1970’s and 80’s, Japan’s rapid development led to a notorious epidemic of “death by overwork”. China has since overtaken Japan as reigning world champion of deaths linked to overworking – over 600,000 in one year. According to a report by the Voice of China, only 30% of Chinese workers enjoy paid vacations, which are already the shortest in the world. According to another survey by Life Times, only 12.28% of respondents believe themselves to be completely healthy, while more than 40% reported their personal health to be “subpar”.
According to a survey by British medical journal The Lancet, approximately 1 out of every 10 Chinese people suffer from mental disorders, of which cases of depression and high anxiety are on the rise. At present, an estimated 26,000,000 Chinese suffer from depression, a number expected to grow as high as 61,000,000 in the near future according to The Lancet‘s report—most of whom will never seek treatment.
China is also currently home to the most suicides of any country in the world. According to an estimate by the World Health Organisation, of the average 3,000 daily suicides per day worldwide, those stemming from work-related stress have tripled in recent years. And there are 110,000 cases of suicide a year reported in China alone, most between the ages of 15-34, close to half of which have no history of mental illness…Source: Huanqiu.com via eChinacities.com
- Poll triggers work pressure concern in China (wantchinatimes.com)
- Study: China becomes No.1 stressed country (jcsenglish.com)
- 600,000 Chinese workers die from overwork annually (wantchinatimes.com)
- As China tensions simmer, Japan pulls back from “world’s factory” (chinadailymail.com)