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Cat cafes…a Chinese recipe (for cure) for the One-Child Generation
Shen Zi Wei is a first year university student at the Faculty of Media 1 in one of the universities of the Chinese capital Beijing and has just turned twenty 2. She had grown up alone like the rest of her generation 3, having no brother sharing her joys and griefs and no sister to disclose her secrets to as the “Law of One-Child”, which the Chinese government has been imposing for three decades, forbids having more than one child per family.
Shen renounced reality for the virtual world of the internet spending hours of her time in front of the computer screen. We found her doing just this when we visited her at her university hall of residence. However, her imagination led her, through an online games’ website, to the south pole whence she returns with a penguin whom she brings up and takes care of. She uses her money in her credit card balance to buy food and bath soap for him and also exchanges love and affection with him till he has with time become her bosom buddy 4.
Shen tells us that she prefers penguins over many of her friends as all of them have their concerns and things that keep them busy. They are unable to visit her nor can she visit them whenever [any of them would like]; whereas she can call her preferred penguin 5, whenever she wants, with just one mouse click.
Breaking out of Isolation
However, Shen has come considerably out (of loneliness) and has decided to break the barrier of her isolation, to bid farewell to her virtual world and respond to the call of reality, as she has realised that she is in need of a living being that she can touch and feel; [a being] that she can play with, call, and talk softly and tenderly to who would respond or whom she can chide and would (promptly) obey.
Shen found the object of her quest at one of the (several) cafes that have started to spread in Chinese cities and are hugely popular 6 with the “one-child generation” segment of the youth that are suffering from boredom and loneliness, as they go to those places to play with the pets, to have them for company and to remove their loneliness.
In this regard, a recently published study has revealed that 60% of Chinese youth have grown up without brothers or sisters due to the one-child law and are considered the “young playboys” or the “sun of the family” as the Chinese say, that is, the entire family revolves around them. In spite of all this pampering they continue to feel lonely about their childhood. Moreover, around seven million of them suffer from loneliness 7.
Yuan Kong, the owner of one such cafe, says to Al Jazeera Arabic’s website: “Everyone who frequents the cafe here is from among the youth 8. The young women 9 usually spend more time playing with the cats whereas the young men spend more time chatting or trying to find a girlfriend and having some cups of coffee or tea. (All in all,) they all feel happy and at (their) ease 10.”
One girl, playing with a cat that was leaping in front of her, comments: “Some of my male and female friends go to volunteer at centres that take care of pets 11 like stray cats and dogs or pets 12 that have been abandoned by their owners; these are gathered in dedicated centres.” She adds: “However, I believe that the cats here are cleaner and free of disease. Moreover, I can’t stand dogs as their barking is annoying.”
That is the story of Shen Zi Wei, or rather the story of an entire generation that is the product of the one-child policy, as this generation grew up without brothers or sisters and suffers from boredom and loneliness. It is natural, therefore, that cafes like this (one) have become the best place for it and that their best companion to sit together with and close friend is a cat.
Didn’t one of the Abbasid poets, who used to suffer 13 from boredom and loneliness, say centuries ago:
When the chest gets packed with its worries, we say: perhaps one day they will have relief;
my drinking mate is my cat, the friend intimately close to me is my notebooks and my beloved is the lamp.