Is China becoming the cuckoo’s nest?

In China, it is estimated that about 100 million people suffer from various kinds of mental illnesses. Out of those people, 16 million are believed to be severely affected by their conditions. Meanwhile, another 250 million are believed to need psychological services, with 80 million in serious need of treatment. This is not anti-China propaganda by the decadent Western capitalist forces. This statement is from an article 100 million people suffer depression in China in the Communist Party controlled newspaper China Daily of November 28, 2016. At that time, the population of China was about 1380 million. Thus, one in four Chinese suffered either from a mental illness or a psychological issue requiring the services of a psychiatrist. All those images of a smiling Xi Jinping talking to smiling people in the pink of health have to be seen in the context of these revelations by the party’s own media more than five years ago. A new lexicon, hitherto unknown, of psychotherapy terms for the management of anxiety, depression and stress has been introduced in Chinese society. We have heard of the 20th century disasters caused by the communist revolution, the Cultural Revolution and the demographic revolution in China. Author Liu Yaochen talks of Xinli Geming, the Psychological Revolution in his 2011 eponymous book. It appears that like previous revolutions, once again China is drifting into territory where its leaders did not intend to take it. Nine years after Lius book, Li Zhang in his book Anxious China: Inner Revolution and Politics of Psychotherapy, which was published in 2020 distinguishes this new episode of Inner Revolution from the previous failed revolutions. He says that since the early 1990s, when Deng launched China on its capitalist path dubbed as socialism with Chinese characteristics a psy-fever or psycho-bloom has inundated the Chinese society. Not only the urban middle class but even the destitute groups like laid off workers are desperately seeking inner peace in this struggle to grapple with the enormous pressures and social ruptures experienced while living through massive societal transformation and this has led to a flourishing and lucrative counselling industry. Quoting Chinese health authorities, the China Daily article said that 10 per cent of the female population and 8 per cent of the male population suffer from depression and every year hundreds `of thousands of Chinese people commit suicide. One third of school students and one fourth of college students suffer from some form of mental illness or disorder. The majority of employees in top companies were found to be showing signs of agitation and anxiety. This was the state of Chinese society in 2016. Since then, the aggressive policies of Xi Jinping have taken on the powerful countries in the West with wolf warrior diplomacy; Trump declared a tariff war on China and the world has become increasingly concerned about the treatment of minorities in Tibet and Xinjiang and the cruelties, including organ harvesting committed on political prisoners and moral dissenters. The Coronavirus is repeatedly appearing in the largest Chinese cities like Shanghai and Beijing leading to lockdowns and disruption of social and economic life due to the overzealous actions of the Chinese state to enforce Xi Jinpings zero-Covid policy. The world has become more inimical to China because the secrecy maintained by China led to the rapid spread of the infection throughout the world. Serious trade disruptions of essentials like imported coal led to blackouts in China and closure of industries. Amid the crash of tech shares and the defaults of the giant real estate companies has come the latest jolt – dozens of banks are refusing to return the depositors money to them and the state has lined up army tanks outside these banks. How have these developments contributed to the incidence of mental illness, depression and anxiety among the Chinese? In an article Chinas mental-health crisis is getting worse: Covid lockdowns and constant surveillance probably do not help, The Economist said on June 22, 2022 that the demand for psychotherapy is increasing in China. It cited the example of Shanghai where the residents, after months of lockdown, can now go out of their homes but are continuously tested for Covid and a positive result means that one is back in quarantine. The downturn in the economy is adding to mental woes with youth-unemployment in June 2022 at a staggering 19.3 per cent – up from 18.4 per cent in May. Suicide rates in China have been historically higher than in most of the other rich countries and these got a further boost during the pandemic with Wuhan recording 79 per cent increase in suicides in the first quarter of 2020 than in the same period of 2019. Mao looked down upon sufferers of mental diseases accusing them of not being committed enough towards the revolution. Xi is one step ahead, labelling the dissidents as mentally ill and locking them up for re-education as has been happening on a wide scale in Xinjiang. Patients are becoming wary of psychotherapists, not sure whether they would feed the diagnosis to the state, landing them in difficulties. Many patients prefer to suffer in silence, leading to what has come to be called political depression a mental state unique to people living in an oppressive state with no recourse to institutional help. In the book mentioned above, Li Zhang goes to the root of the mental health crisis in China narrating how Chinese society is being introduced to a new therapeutic language that includes managing anxiety, depression and stress. This contrasts sharply with the tendency in the traditional Chinese culture as well as in the communist ideology that discourages a focus on the individuals reliance on family and friends in the former and on the party in the later, to grapple with personal stress and distress. This Inner Revolution has the potential to cause profound changes from within the individual. He describes the change as simultaneously personal and political, intimate and social, subtle and powerful. Since Plato, scholars have recognised the relationship between inequality and political violence. Yet, China represents a unique case of inequality where less than 10 per cent of the masses belong to a rigid class, in this case the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). In a 1988 paper Rulers and the Ruled: Patterned inequality and the onset of mass political violence Manus I. Midlarsky calls this a bifurcated pattern of inequality and concludes that under it, the probability of political violence is likely to be greater than under a more generalized inequality measured by the Gini index. As it is, China represents a very unequal society even by the Gini Index. Will the mental problems being faced by a quarter of the Chinese add to the physical woes to tilt the society’s balance, as it did at Tiananmen Square earlier? That revolution was aborted by the armed forces. Will the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) remain loyal to the CCP in the face of ever-increasing state-oppression of the people even as the quality of life for the common Chinese degrades? The 1975 psychological comedy film One flew over the cuckoos nest portrays the struggle of the inmates of a mental facility against a head nurse described as a cold, passive-aggressive tyrant. At the end of the film, patient McMurphy who was leading the rebellion is lobotomized by the facility rendering him limp and unresponsive. Will the peoples revolt against the CCP, if and when it comes, result in freedom for the Chinese or will they meet the fate of McMurphy? The coming 20th Party Congress in October, where Xi Jinping will seek to perpetuate his tyrannical rule, will be a good time to watch for an answer to this question. Meanwhile, next week in this column, we shall look further into the role of the CCP in this proliferation of mental diseases in China.

Source : Daily World

The writer RN Prasher is a retired IAS officer of Haryana cadre | Personal Opinions

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