Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Social Studies

Some of these topics have been touched on before, as recently as the Mish Mash entry posted back in June of this year. With this report I seek to sharpen focus on 4 distinct social phenomena. It is ponderous and heavy handed, I’ll confess… but, as my friend’s mother was wont to say: life is not always peaches and cream.

Here I offer a serving or two of roughage.

According to television reports, centers for elderly are the new cash cow in China. Families no longer have the time and sometimes no desire to care for their parents. The financial burden can be overwhelming, to say nothing of the constraints on the new social lives current generations enjoy. Such has been the neglect of elderly recently that the government passed a law imposing filial responsibility. This law, enacted in the last few months has already challenged the intellectual community: should there be laws on moral/ethical issues? If so, how to enforce those laws? The debate rages on but the law is staying on the books.

Clearly the government cannot continue to pay all retirees their stipend, as is the case right now. Besides, the individual payout is not nearly enough money to live on independently. Getting a grip on this urgent situation is leaving the government scrambling for solutions. They turn to the West for answers. One of the places they look at is America, a country that reputedly ‘manages’ their elderly crisis much better than does China.

What about children?

I’ve often reported, also in a compare/contrast format about issues surrounding children in China. Originally I reported there was no such thing as latchkey children. The last 2 years have rendered my statement false. Because more and more elderly are either neglected by their family or are engaged in their own life away from family, school aged children are left to care for themselves till their parents come home. This is a statistic that is so new as to have no hard data compiled but it is another wrinkle in the brow of social affairs managers, especially in light of emboldened criminals.


Formerly, newscasts reported very few incidents of crime – break-ins, theft and the like. Either crime rates are now drastically climbing or they are being reported more. I’d prefer it to be the latter rather than the former. Either way, it is disturbing. The idea of escalating crime rates suggests a population getting more out of control, more bold, more restless and more demanding.

In a recent report a man stabbed and killed 4 people on a bus in Sichuan province. A week later, in another province another knife-wielding man went on a rampage on a bus, killing 3 people and injuring 12.

While this is a alarming trend, the media’s focus is not on the killing as much as on the reasons these men have gone on rampages. Both cite financial and family strain, isolation and distance from their home, as well as frustration at not being able to find balance between secular – or even hedonistic life in the city and sending all the money they earn back to their families. Sociologists ponder the need for more mental health awareness, better wages, education and living conditions for migrant workers and greater accessibility to mental health professionals.

In an unusual twist this article also suggested that microbloggers, comparable to Twitter in the states and Netizens – the online community be more cautious in reporting and discussing such crimes for fear of encouraging copycats.

In the west, America especially, people have long suspected the sensationalism of criminal acts is in part responsible for the vast proliferation of same-type crimes. Yet each new instance is again ‘glorified’, speculated over and mulled ad nauseam in virtually every media outlet available.

It is debatable whether media reports spur crime rates or individual frustration drives criminals to their deeds. Either way, escalation of crime rates signifies an immediate need for some type of social reform or at least consideration into matters regarding society.

I’ve reported several times on the quality of life for the elderly, women’s changing role and growing burden of responsibility in society, and children’s development. One demographic I’ve not spoken of at all is men’s roles and responsibilities. That is because essentially, men’s roles and privileges have not changed.    

Men are still regarded as the cornerstone of financial and social foundations. As privileges expand and financial freedom grows for women, so do they for men. But men’s activities have remained the same throughout the ages. If women have found more financial freedom in recent times, as evidenced by shopping and dining venues, Men have gained greater access to and permission for leisure activities as well. However, primary outlets such as alcohol consumption, sex, and idle pastimes have remained the same.

If women have earned more latitude in making personal choices such as when/whether, and who to marry, men, who have always had that privilege are exercising it more. If women can choose from a broader range of career choices, men have to leeway to forge new business ventures. If women have discovered increasingly relaxed standards of modesty, men have embraced the ability to flaunt themselves in decidedly non-traditional ways. Some sport tattoos and radical hair styles and colors, while others find expression in more relaxed, arrogant or even aggressive body language and attitude.

That is not to say that males do not feel social pressure. They too are caught between traditional roles and values, such as: running the household, to include decisions regarding finances, child rearing and how to manage care for their family elders; and modern social pressures such as keeping up with trends, forging their way into business and making their mark on the world.

One aspect of male life that has changed dramatically is emotional. A lot of the young fathers I know have no qualms about expressing their love for their children. Traditionally males hid behind an inscrutable mask of duty toward their family, making decisions and issuing edicts formulated strictly by pragmatic concerns. These days, men are allowed to agonize over choices for their parents and grandparents and to express how much they miss their daughters and sons while they are away – either the fathers are away from the family, or the children are sent away to live with grandparents.

Officers of the law are scrunched between 2 very uncomfortable positions. On the one hand they are charged with upholding the law and on the other, they must have an understanding and responsibility to maintain civil harmony.

If they operate strictly to the letter of the law, lower castes of society would rebel. However, unless they rein in those farmers who sell fruit illegally on street corners that impede foot traffic and cause safety and sanitation hazards, legitimate small business vendors who pay taxes and buy business licenses will rebel.

Rounding up those farmers and fining them would result in the farmers not being able to make a living. The base fine, 50Yuan, is what a hustling, enterprising vagrant farmer can expect to earn in a good day, selling for 10 to 15 hours straight. The paper trail incurred from fining these farmers would further stigmatize them, so that the farmers would eventually not be able to earn any money, and be driven back to the farm, where eking out a life was impossible in the first place.

More often than not these officers seek some sort of compromise between the vagrant farmers and legitimate fruit markets. If a stall rents for 10Yuan a day, the officer will help negotiate it down to half, or even to a percentage of the farmer’s daily take so that everyone can find benefit in the situation. Sometimes illegal vendors find redemption in the officers’ compassion and other times they decide it is worth taking their chances on the street corner, under the reasoning that if they stay mobile, the same officer will not find them twice.

Into this world my students forge ahead. Since their return to class they have reported the relief at being remanded to student status, where nothing more than studying and spending time with friends is expected of them. Those that did find part time jobs this summer project gloom at eventually being forced out of the relative safety of the dorm and the spongy middle ground of being a grown up child.

Those graduates that I visited with during my wanderings this summer have reported dismay at how society and the professional world operates, while others openly admit to dealing with outright depression. Prospects are not good for them. As with young adults everywhere, they are suffering the injustice of employers who demand experience when experience is impossible to earn, having just graduated.

What is the answer?


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