If there’s one thing I admire about the Chinese, it’s their ability to fall asleep anywhere. As a self-confessed “princess” when it comes to sleep, I’m continually amazed at how the Chinese can catch a few zzzz’s when ever they feel like it.
I can’t sleep in planes, trains, or cars. I usually sleep sprawled on my stomach, and require a comfortable bed, complete darkness, and absolute silence. I’ve been known to cover lights on tv’s and chargers if I don’t have my eye mask, and take batteries out of ticking clocks if I have no earplugs.
But sleeping in public is completely socially acceptable in China, and it seems like Chinese people are just naturally able to block out sound and distractions. The fact that the whole country is sleep deprived probably contributes to the tendency to snore in public, although it could also come down to Chinese beds, which are unbelievably hard and uncomfortable.
Photos of the Chinese sleeping on showroom beds in IKEA recently made international news, and there’s even a website devoted to photos of people sleeping in public in China (sleepingchinese.com). The question needs to be asked…why are the Chinese so tired?
An Exhausting Education System
From a very young age, Chinese children are taught to work themselves into exhaustion. After a full day of kindergarten (granted there’s usually a nap in the middle), kids are usually shuffled straight to private tutoring or English training centres. This continues through elementary and middle school, where kids go to school all day, and then have hours of homework and extracurricular activities.
In high school, students stop all extracurricular activities and begin preparing for the Gaokao. The Gaokao is an intense, two-day college entrance exam, with 9-hours of testing a day.
This exam determines not only their future, but that of their parents and grandparents as well. There is no social security in China, and the amount of pressure these kids are under must be excruciating.
Some schools have been compared to sweatshops, with students studying up to fifteen hours a day, and getting one day off a month. Video cameras are monitoring the kids for laziness, and it’s really not surprising that the suicide rate amongst teenagers is increasing.
It’s sad that these guys don’t get the chance to be kids. Ask any Chinese teenager what they did in the weekend and they’ll tell you that they watched TV and slept.
Poor Healthcare and Few Sick Days
After a few months in China, I quickly learned that sick days are unacceptable, and if you call in sick you’d better be dying. We’re often seen as the “soft foreigners”, and in the kindergartens and training schools I worked at, I never saw a single Chinese person take a day of for being sick. The Chinese have a great work ethic, but I must admit I get annoyed when everyone around me is coughing and sniffling and I come down with it two days later.
While most employees are eligible for around five days of leave a year, most Chinese people won’t take them, as they need them if their child gets sick, or if they want to go home for Chinese New Year. The exception was for the World Cup recently, when the Chinese were buying fake sick notes so they could watch the game at home.
Long Work Hours
82.8 percent of Chinese workers say they already feel overworked. This isn’t surprising in the least, since while the the “legal” maximum working hours a week are capped at 49, a lot of Chinese people work much more than this. In Beijing alone, 60 percent of workers admit to working more than two hours of overtime a day.
iPhone factories in China have made headlines recently, due to underreporting workers hours, and the deaths of several workers recently-including a fifteen year old named Shi Zhaokun who died of pneumonia. Shi had worked 280 hours that month.
In China, the focus is on getting ahead and earning a lot of money, and due to the one-child policy, there’s now a whole generation of only children who need to provide for both their parents and their grandparents.
China Youth Daily reports that an estimated 600,000 Chinese are dying of overwork each year, but China’s communist roots mean that many people still believe in “putting the community above the individual”.
Sleeping in public is definitely one of those weird things in China, and it can be amusing to see the Chinese asleep, mouths open and snoring. However a recent survey reported that 66.8 percent of Chinese people say that their health is poor, and 78.6 percent have had young friends, colleagues, or peers die or experience incurable illnesses in the last year.
This is largely due to the pollution, food, and substandard medical care, and paints a grim picture of a country that values hard work and money over everything else. Those surveyed blamed stress, difficulty sleeping, and long working hours as the biggest sources of their health concerns.
With this in mind, is it any wonder that the Chinese are catching up on sleep when ever they get the chance?