Face-to-face with China, Shanghai

As an Australian-Chinese psychologist, I’m what they call ‘multicultural’; I live in two worlds. Recently my partner and I travelled to Hong Kong, returning to my roots, and then on to Shanghai. The purpose of this trip went beyond a simple vacation (and shopping – but that’s a topic for a different blog). It was an opportunity to spend time with family whom I hadn’t seen face to face in over 10 years and to see real Chinese life and culture up close and personal, in places where Chinese culture was formed.

IMAG0296They say that in Adelaide we are laid back and easy going. This is more true for some people than others, but by way of comparison;

  • Shanghai workers do long hours, minimum 10 per day, often up to 16, for 6 or 7 days per week.
  • Young children often live away from their parents (who work hard in Shanghai) with their grandparents. I met a woman from Sichuan, a province in China, who said she only sees her son once a year on Chinese New Year.
  • For the working class in Shanghai, work is what people do to survive. Career choice and what city you live in is less of a lifestyle decision so much as a way to feed yourself and family and put a roof over their head.  Basically, you are either rich, or you work at a customer service role until you are unable to do so.
  • Girls are often a commodity in Shanghai – there are 10 boys for every girl and a girl often won’t marry a man unless he has a home of his own. The emphasis is on the man to acquire the car, the apartment, and to provide for his wife (although unless a couple are rich, both husband and wife will almost certainly work to survive).
  • Sure there are well to do people in Shanghai for whom work is less survival focused, but the emerging middle class in China is still very small. A tiny percentage of people are very rich, but these are the exception. For most, the daily grind is unrelenting.

SHMy father left Shanghai over 30 years ago and, for all that the city has changed immensely since then, the no holds barred competitiveness and survival focused work culture honed my understanding of his upbringing and view of the world. The culture and real world pressures that shaped his life, as well as the lives of so many Australians from countries less easy going than Adelaide, have implications for how we as Psychologists seek to develop a professional understanding of the unique circumstances of our client’s situation, and the approach taken in supporting our clients to overcome personal life challenges and improve their social and emotional well-being.

Gina Huisy (July, 2013).

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