Yang Mingming, an employee of a company based in Hangzhou, east China’s Zhejiang Province, has decided to stay in the city instead of returning to his hometown around 1,500 km away in northwest China’s Shaanxi Province to celebrate the coming Spring Festival.
To reduce the flow of personnel and curb the spread of the COVID-19 epidemic, many places across China have encouraged residents and migrant workers to stay put for the most important festival in China usually marked by mass migration and family reunions.
“It’s the first time I choose to spend the festival away from my family,” Yang said. “That’s to protect my parents and myself from the risk of infections.”
Yang said he made the decision after discussions with his parents. “My parents sent me flavors from my hometown to make me feel at home and I will send them some ham made in Zhejiang to express my love to them,” he said, adding that local government and his company also prepared subsidies and gifts for people like him.
Disruptions caused by the novel coronavirus kept many indoors during the Spring Festival last year. This year, those not going home out of anti-epidemic concerns are choosing to send their regards to family members through video calls and cross-country gift deliveries while preparing meals and planning to join in local cultural activities.
To many Chinese, dealing with the difficulties brought by the virus is bittersweet as they put health first, manage to adapt to new lifestyles and seek new forms of joy.
PUTTING HEALTH FIRST
A survey conducted by healthcare connector and digital service provider DXY shows that the COVID-19 epidemic has accelerated the growth of Chinese people’s health awareness.
According to the survey, 93 percent of the 56,196 respondents placed their physical health, rather than wealth, work or relationships, as their top priority in 2020.
Consumption behavior reflected this heightened focus people placed on their physical health. Data from the online healthcare platform of JD.com shows that sales of health checkup products surged year on year on Nov. 11, 2020 during China’s popular Singles’ Day shopping festival.
The mounting emphasis on health permeated into people’s daily lives, as various groups pursued healthy lifestyles in their own ways.
The thousand-year-long dining custom of the country took on a new look, as people either turned to eating individually served meals at small tables or using serving chopsticks and spoons when sharing dishes with family and friends. Although the new way of dining brings with it a degree of inconvenience and disturbs communication to some extent, it makes people feel safer.
Three times a week at 6:50 a.m., 26-year-old Zhao Yang, gets ready to attend the online yoga lessons run by expert teachers, as the virus disrupted offline classes at fitness centers.
“We start the morning class early as some students are working full time. They want to exercise before going to work,” said Zhao.
She also teaches office workers online yoga lessons herself in the evening. She noticed that more people, young and old, signed up for her online classes after the COVID-19 epidemic outbreak.
Zhao Xiulin, a pensioner in her 70s, avoids using cash to pay for her purchases as a way to stay safe. With only limited experience using digital technology, she learned to pay by cell phone amid the epidemic. “I feel clean and safe not dealing with cash when shopping, and some acquaintances my age have also turned to digital payment,” she said.
EMBRACING LIFE ONLINE
When maintaining social distance became a must amid the epidemic, internet platforms emerged as invaluable tools facilitating people’s daily work and study.
Data from the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC) shows that the number of people working from home reached 346 million by December 2020, accounting for 34.9 percent of all netizens in the country.
The jump in demand also accelerated the expansion of online education, with the number of online education users hitting 342 million by December last year, surging by 109 million from June 2019, according to the CNNIC.
Qu Di, a full-time worker and mother of two children, used to get up at around 6 a.m. and take more than one hour commuting to work, leaving her children with their grandparents the whole day.
By working from home since the epidemic outbreak, she has been able to get up one hour later every day, make meals for her children, oversee their performance in their online lessons and take them for short walks in the community.
She is also glad to see that her husband, an IT engineer who used to come home very late after work, has much more time to play with their children when working from home.
“With everyone together, we do physical exercises every day and bake cakes occasionally. Although it’s tiring to cook three meals a day and look after the children all the time, I love to be with my family,” she said.
In fact, many working people share Qu’s feelings. Nearly 80 percent of those responding to a survey on telecommuting said they like working from home, citing reduced commuting time, less stress and the ability to care for their family, said a report released by 51job, a human resource service provider in China.
Apart from meeting the necessary demands of those stranded at home, whether working, learning, shopping, seeking medical advice or hunting for jobs, online life has flourished, as an increasing number of people turn to short videos, livestreaming, online games, exhibitions and tourism as well as cloud communication in their leisure time.
Chinese people listed family happiness as the second-most important thing in life, right after physical health, while listing mental health in third place, said the DXY report.
The endeavors of seeking joy in life pick up steam offline as well when people try to cheer themselves up at hard times by purchasing toys with special design, creating new dishes and drinks, keeping pets, reading and enjoying arts.
More Chinese people reflected upon or reshaped their values amid the epidemic, said Sun Yingshuai, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
“People can see that money is nothing compared to a healthy life, and owning multiple cars and properties is nothing compared to living a happy life in the company of family and friends. Beyond material gains, studying, reading, quietly contemplating and other spiritual pursuits are once again drawing people’s attention,” Sun said.