I was born into a generation in China that was, at the time, subject to the so-called one-child policy, a strict demand from the country that each family bears no more than one child, to curb a then-surging population.
What back then seemed like a perpetual formality no longer exists now, so we comically become the only generation in history that was systematically planned to have no siblings.
I can hear sociologists whooping in their study rooms finding this large sample of data.
It must have given us a special identity. Are we, as a generation, more spoiled, self-centered, less competitive? Were our courses of life affected by the unflinching, relentless attention from parents, which often results in high, stern expectations? I’ll leave that to psychologists and sociologists to figure out, now that they are already excited.
But what’s uncanny is that, on the surface, we all look the same. Truthfully, I experienced no hardship growing up that way, none at all. We have close friends, we usually grow up together with cousins, and we still use (and maybe overuse) the words brother and sister (it is in our culture to add Brother/Sister to the names of acquaintances as a term of endearment or respect). And each of us individually, is of course no different than any random family that happens to have one child, by choice or chance.
If I have to pick one thing that stands out from all our nasty personality traits, one thing that is eerily shared by some 300 million (a rough count of people born in 80s and 90s) singletons, I would say it is the deepest fear of what’s to become of us.
Practically, we face this burden of caring for four aging parents when we establish our own family. But if you know me I don’t talk about practical problems. I assume there are always practical solutions.
What daunts me more is this outlook: you know how life is hard, we grow apart, we get old and irritated, we travel the length and breadth of the world only to become freer and freer a self, and lesser and lesser connected to our past? You rarely remember or talk to people you grew up with, until you are knotted back again with some unavoidable “family issues”. It’s that knot that keeps you sane, somewhat presentable, or wanting to succeed. For me though, at some point, that knot can just easily be removed. From some point on in the future, if I am unlucky, there will be nothing ever that’s going to link me to the earthly world.
Do you live in the hope that the future is undoubtedly better, or like me, in the lack of hope that at least in this single dimension, it most definitely will not?
Maybe all societies are the same. Families with multiple kids have their own burden, just as families with one have their own joy. But it is, at least, surreal, that a whole generation (and as large as a Chinese generation can be) shares this burden and joy.
The last time a package was so demographically shared, it must be in the same group as disaster, death, and love. Things that can’t be contemplated on, things we fear in our bones.