When will they settle down ?- a perspective on the restlessness prevalent in China today

Luke Zhang

本文原刊於《舉目》20期

          “I’m always trying to work out my gains and losses”, “I’m totally exhausted, mentally and physically”, “I don’t have the patience to see a task through to completion”, “I’m always busy, yet I’m often confused and don’t know what I’m meant to be doing…what’s happened to me?” These are just some of the complaints I hear these days in China.

          “What’s happened?” has a simple answer. Large numbers of people have contracted the disease of “restlessness”. Today’s society is permeated by a sense of restlessness, a profit-driven feeling of anxiety and unrest, a scurrying here and there, sleeplessness… This restlessness has permeated people’s lives and all aspects of human relations. It is now so common that it has become almost universal.

A prevailing fashion?

           Almost 20 years ago, the famous Mainland writer Jia Ping Au wrote a novel, “The Restless Ones” (1988 US Pegasus Literature Award) from his observation of this phenomenon in our society. Ten years ago, the well-known singer Wang Fey turned the song “Restless” into a top pop tune, reflecting what had already a prevalent social reality. This song was on the pop chart for several years, reflecting people’s common response to the phenomenon. Restlessness had become trendy.

             Restlessness is a lack of peace in the heart, an anxious urge to hurry. One cause of this anxiety is the desire to come out on top. A high degree of personal vanity can cause someone to fall. A single-minded determination to get rich quick by any means, a constant obsession with getting ahead, covering up one’s conscience and losing one’s sense of right and wrong . . . Those involved in government keep on eye on the moods of their higher-ups, trying to be politically correct, flattering their way to promotion. Image engineering and political engineering are everywhere. In the examination halls, speculation and cheating are prevalent; new technologies and greater greed resulting in the blossoming of substitute exam takers and thesis writers.

           In commerce, the mind-set is to profit by any means, and integrity is lost through false advertising. One often heard news of poisonous milk powders and unacceptable foodstuffs. Making use of the names of individuals, name brands, high society, competition based on appearances – all these are commonplace. Many high spending students supplement the money their fathers earn by selling their own blood…

          In addition, there are extravagant wedding banquets and grand opening ceremonies supported by high-price movie stars. Young boys and girls are sent overseas for study in order to ‘gild the lilies’. Small groups get together and speculate on real estate, energy, and high risk investments, etc.

          All of the above factors have pushed restlessness into becoming a trendy fashion. If you are not restless, then you are behind the times. If you are not restless, you will be mercilessly eliminated. Just look up the most recent survey of Chinese people’s desires. As many as 73% of respondents recorded “more money” as their number one desire. This reinforces the fact that the tendency to “Focus on money” has not receded, but is surging even higher, along with its accompanying restlessness.

Killer of body and soul

           A recent article which appeared in the Chinese Youth journal succinctly pointed out that “restlessness” is resulting in heart-related ailments due to high stress. A recent survey among young people revealed that 66% of respondents feel over-stressed, and only 1% do not feel the effect of stress.

          Many other symptoms of “restlessness syndrome” are becoming apparent: abnormal blood pressure, stomach ailments, and mental frustration. In addition, there are the strange phenomena of short term marriages, rapid love-life transitions (a passionate wedding followed by quick divorce), and ‘month-by-month youth’ (all their monthly allowances already spent), revealing the huge impact of restlessness on families, marriages, and concepts of expenditure.

           This trend towards restlessness is closely linked to common attitudes of our countrymen. Everyone considers that this period of time offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get rich, and feels that one must strive to move forward, grasp opportunities and not be left behind. Yet at the same time this behavior is bringing a very real pressure and anxiety to bear on the individual. A Chinese saying speaks of “eating what’s in the bowl, looking at what’s in the pot, and watching the mouth of the other party”. With these attitudes and life-styles, how could one not be restless and start to age prematurely?

Back to the origins

           Yet “restlessness” was not invented by the Chinese, nor is it a Chinese monopoly. From ancient times right up to today, and for people of all colors, restlessness has accompanied us like our own shadow. From the time that Adam and Eve rebelled against God, man has always been haunted by restlessness.

               When a problem arose in man’s relationship with God, it affected human beings’ relationships with other people, with their surroundings, and with their own selves. Greed became dominant and turned “watch and care for” into the robbing of Nature. The life of “peace and rest” turned into a struggle, with “sweat on faces and dwellings adrift”.

             Recently I was doing detailed reading from chapters in the Gospels in the Bible. Peter, a fisherman living by the Sea of Galilee, used to be a restless person – hot-blooded, quarrelsome, loud mouthed, arrogant, self-assertive, and impudent. However, as a fisherman he “labored all night without catching anything”. Luke 5 provides the best commentary on his restlessness -“all for nothing!”

              Now, listen to the prescription Jesus gave him for his restlessness: “Put the boat out into deep water and let down the net for a catch.” (Luke 5:4) This experience out in the deeper waters turned Peter’s life around. He began to have a true understanding of himself, “I am nothing but a weak sinner”. At the same time, he began to realize that Jesus is the Creator of the universe: not just a rabbi, but “You are the Lord”. Furthermore, he was given a clear view what his life was to be like – a moving forward beyond temporal corruptible things to follow the Lord, the Giver of eternal life, the One who is simultaneously the way, the truth, and the life.

           From that time on, Peter’s life moved away from restlessness and towards “in-depth”. He was eventually changed from a fisherman by the Sea of Galilee into a great apostle.

          Today, how we need to navigate the boats of our lives out towards the deep! Only the truths brought through Jesus can cure our ailment of restlessness; and only by focusing our eyes upon Jesus can we be truly filled, body and soul, and no longer be caught up in the billowing dust of this world, until our essence is sucked dry, while we are still unaware of our soul’s true home!

The author came from Shanghai and is currently the China Ministry Director of Sowers International.

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