China's `Dear Abby'. Qiu Ming offers readers the kind of advice and comfort she wishes she could have heard. COMMUNIST COLUMNIST
LIVING amid the teeming alleys and communal gray-brick courtyards of Beijing, Qiu Ming knows the anguish of loneliness in a crowd. One day six years ago, socially ostracized and humiliated by her divorce, Ms. Qiu attempted suicide by throwing herself into the path of an oncoming car on a busy Beijing street.Skip to next paragraph
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The car braked inches away and Qiu was unhurt, but she has never forgotten the alienation she felt as she was surrounded by a gawking rush-hour swarm.
``I would have been satisfied if anyone had just listened to me a little,'' said Qiu, a broad-faced woman with sensitive eyes and a girlish voice. ``But no one gave me any comfort.''
Today, Qiu offers hundreds of thousands the caring advice she once so desperately needed. She is China's ``Dear Abby.''
``I decided to be the one to say `I'll help you' when people had troubles,'' Qiu said in an interview.
Nicknamed ``big sister'' or ``auntie'' by those who consult her, Qiu writes a weekly advice column for the official China Women's News, which has about 300,000 subscribers nationwide. Qiu's ``letter box,'' the first of its kind in a Chinese newspaper, has won wide popularity since it first appeared on Jan. 8, 1988.
``I have had a love affair, a marriage, a baby, and a divorce,'' Qiu wrote in her first letter to readers. ``I have tasted all the bitterness, both expressible and inexpressible, that a divorced woman can experience. ... I'd like to hear your innermost feelings, share your sorrows and troubles and, if possible, offer my advice.''
Letters to ``sister'' Qiu have poured in by the hundreds - from men and women, young and old, sophisticated urban intellectuals and illiterate peasants who dictate their woes to village scribes. Posted from across the nation, they cover topics ranging from romance and marriage to divorce, infidelity, and homosexuality.
Answering each letter personally, Qiu discovered that countless Chinese crave emotional support and moral guidance just as she once did. Such needs are intensifying as Confucian mores and Maoist puritanism clash with the new permissiveness of China's rapidly modernizing society, she says.
On the one hand, a decade of fast economic growth and rising prosperity has spurred a ``sexual revolution'' in China, with both premarital and extramarital sex increasingly common, according to the magazine Chinese Youth.
Many Chinese also seem less serious about marriage. The number of divorce cases handled by China's courts more than doubled last year compared to 1987, official statistics show. In big cities, for every 100 couples who marry, 30 register for divorce, according to the official China Daily. Many couples who seek divorce have been married only one or two years, the paper said.
On the other hand, deep-seated social prejudices against such liberal conduct lingers, leaving many Chinese - especially young people - torn between new urges and conservative values thousands of years old. Tormented by social pressure, some 140,000 Chinese each year commit suicide, the nation's leading cause of unnatural death.
Qiu says many Chinese turn to her for advice because they are ashamed to divulge their inner conflicts to family members or friends.
``Chinese people are very introverted,'' Qiu said. ``They don't want to reveal their worries to others for fear of losing face. They feel it is dangerous to talk about personal problems, even to a friend, because others might find out.''
Qiu can easily sympathize with such fears, which paralyzed her for several years.