Home >> Hot Issue

Living in a world of love like never before

Updated: 2023-08-16 07:53 ( China Daily )
Share - WeChat

Today's multifaceted society has welcomed new perceptions and expectations for romance and relationships for Chinese youth.

The Qixi Festival — the seventh day of the seventh lunar month — falls on Aug 22 this year. Known as Chinese Valentine's Day, it's a traditional festival to celebrate love. To many young people, however, it seems that intimate relationships are something no longer worthy of much celebration.

"Nowadays, a great number of young people value themselves more and care more about their own feelings, so their expectations and standards for intimate relationships have grown, and their tolerance for unhealthy relationships has correspondingly diminished," said Zhang Xiaowen, associate professor at Wuhan University of Technology in Wuhan, Hubei province.

Zhang has been teaching the course Psychology of Love at the university since 2011, along with Relationships, Career, and Personality. Both courses have been launched on China's University MOOC platform, garnering significant attention and praise from numerous college students.

The development of social media has exposed an increasing number of young people to discussions on gender issues in relationships, legal issues in marriages and the experiences of parenthood, which has led inexperienced youngsters to approach relationships and marriage with a sense of hesitation and anxiety. And this was what prompted Zhang to create a course about love and relationships in the first place.

"Although there are a lot of materials and case studies about love available online, young people often find it hard to obtain scientifically grounded and professionally guided assistance," said Zhang, adding that for young people who aspire to establish enduring and healthy long-term intimate relationships, love has become a subject that demands an investment of time, energy, and systematic learning.

Since the course started, Zhang has been striving to make it more up-to-date while simultaneously imparting valuable psychological knowledge without losing the fun.

"I hope that this course serves as a bridge between psychology and the real-life experiences of students," she said. "By weaving the latest scientific research on intimate relationships into stories, I try to provide a platform where students can personally engage, feel, debate, and share, and ultimately obtain practical experiences and knowledge applicable to their own lives."

Through continuous observation of her students, Zhang noticed that even though they might be more cautious about getting into a relationship, they have not lost their passion for love. "It is human nature to desire love, happiness and intimacy. Although there are not as many students in relationships today as there were 10 years ago, I still believe the desire for profound emotions has not waned in the slightest," she said.

According to her, love also serves as a vital pathway for personal development and self-improvement. "Our sense of self can only continue to grow through the building of new relationships. The pursuit of self and falling in love with others are not contradictory. Rather, they complement one another," said Zhang.

Love to crush

Instead of looking for long-term relationships, some young people have been steering their attention toward a shorter alternative: crushes.

Yu Hang, a Gen Zer herself, is a professional writer. But she has another identity: the leader of "I Had a Crush Today", a chat group on Douban, a Chinese social networking platform.

Established by Yu in September 2020, the group boasts a membership of over 180,000 people, with the predominant age group being Generation Z. In the group, people share their own crush stories and also bear witness to those of others.

"The term 'crush' is often intertwined with notions of romance, positivity, or vitality — words inherently brimming with vigor," said Yu, who first learned about the English word "crush" from an American TV show. "I intended to aggregate and subsequently disseminate these shared sentiments, fostering a broader outreach and enabling a greater number of individuals to experience this palpable sense of exhilaration."

Yu shared one particularly memorable post for her. It was written by a girl who was deeply struck by a young man at a conference. As the post describes, the sky outside was turning completely dark, and the reflection on the window was so clear that when the girl looked into it, she and the young man locked eyes in the reflection.

"There is no follow-up to this story, but the image of that moment left me with an indescribable feeling," said Yu.

But Yu doesn't think that Gen Zers are necessarily unwilling to form long-term intimate relationships. It's just that compared to the generations X and Y before them, Gen Zers are exposed to a wider range of people as well as more diverse and novel experiences, which has compressed their time for nurturing interpersonal relationships.

"Young people's inclination toward 'crushes' could stem from the increasingly dynamic and less stable environments they navigate," said Yu. "They may appear to be infatuated with the concept of crushes. But I think enduring intimate relationships and the experience of a crush are independent of each other and not mutually exclusive."

And for the group members, according to Yu, the group itself holds a significance beyond its entertainment and leisure aspect: It embraces a valuable essence of humanism. The exchanges born of random encounters often provide them with support and encouragement, giving some spice to their busy daily lives.

The Titanic may sink, but my 'ship' won't

When building and maintaining an intimate relationship seems too hard for many young people, some of them may turn in another direction: admiring the relationships of others — even if they are not real.

Zhang Yuxin, a recent graduate of Southwest University of Political Science and Law in Chongqing, has been into "shipping" — the act of imaginatively matching two people together as a couple — for quite some time. She has paired fictional characters in anime and TV series as well as real-life celebrities.

"For many young people, shipping serves to attain a sense of happiness and fulfillment, similar to the joyful feeling one gets when admiring adorable things. It's one of the ways humans release their passion and emotions," she said.

Since 2020, like many fan fiction creators, Zhang has been using these fantasies as inspiration for her artwork, taking up her brush to craft numerous artistic pieces using the couples she ships as the main feature.

"I enjoy the process of completing my works and looking back at them. I also like being in a creative state, which makes me feel truly vibrant," Zhang said. "What's even more valuable to me is that through these works and interactions, I've gained a lot of friendships."

In Zhang's view, shipping has an overall positive impact on people's perspectives on love. The in-depth exploration of the external manifestations and choices of couple pairings by fans, along with the analysis of the emotional changes within these pairings, serves as a form of romantic observation. Through this, young people can discover diverse types of intimate relationships.

"I don't think shipping can replace real romance, but it can certainly augment our sense of happiness within specific periods," Zhang stated. "Of course, this sense of happiness can also be derived from professional accomplishments and other relationships and interests. What we must strive for is the ability to freely allocate and manage our sources of happiness."

Hot words
Most Popular