“Life in China is exhausting”

Winter in Northeast China

It’s November, 2014. My husband and I go to a bathhouse. I really like Northeastern China’s bathing culture and we try to make time once in a while to relax a little (which isn’t always easy with a 4-month-old).

When I get dressed after taking a bath and getting a body scrub, the female employees start chatting with me.

One asks: “Where are you from?”
“Austria is a rich country, isn’t it?”
“You could say so.”
“China is poor. I’ve been living here for every single day of my life, and all I can say is that life in China is exhausting.”

Do you agree that life in China is exhausting? I’d love to read your thoughts.

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Hi, I'm Ruth, welcome to China Elevator Stories! I have been living in Kunming and Shenzhen in the past and am now staying in Northeast China with my Chinese husband and our baby and toddler son. Join us on our journey bridging worlds!


  1. 陈岗

    Yes, I would say so. It is more like you have little breathing room, after a while, you either become numb or want to escape. Other than the physical crowadness, the ever-present government control is more suffocating, it hasn’t changed in this regard, although a lot has changed on the economic front.

  2. I wonder what she means. She says China is poor, so she must be talking about the difficulty of living day to day when one is poor.

    Transportation can be a big thing. When I lived in Manila, crowds on the sidewalks and too much traffic were exhausting. I had my own car, though. Waiting for a bus or riding a bike would have been more tiring.

    I’m glad you’re enjoying the bath. How’s your baby?

    • Yeah, I think that’s what she was talking about. Either her job being exhausting (they have long working hours and get little pay), or maybe also the pressure of the whole society that you need to earn enough money and succeed, so your kids will have a better life?

      Thanks, baby’s doing fine, he’s grown into a very lively toddler.

  3. I have always felt that life in China was exhausting, but I thought that was just because I was an expat so it takes me longer to do anything and everything, haha. But for locals and expats, most things tend to take more time, which is frustrating.

    • I think it’s the rat race here in general that makes it exhausting. Maybe the factors that make it exhausting for expats are different than those for locals, since they also have to deal with all of society’s expectations and everyday pressure.

  4. Kmarie

    Maybe she meant the repetition and monotony of not thinking, during that sort of job… or the lack of passionate people doing what they love at different levels. When I look at the people around me here, I see a sort of numbness in their eyes sometimes, from feeling stuck in one place.

  5. I don’t know about being poor in China specifically, but being poor in general is exhausting. Having to constantly hustle, stressing over money, stressing over food (or lack thereof), having to constantly be on guard when you live in a poor area? You’d get worn down in a hurry.

  6. pt

    China is poor relative to certain countries (like Norway, Japan, etc), but not poor relative to other ones (like Rwanda, India, etc).

  7. I got this comment a lot in China, too. America was “the best country in the world” and people were dumbfounded that I left to go live in China. Chinese people have such a poor image of their own country.

    As other comments mention, being poor in China would be extremely hard and exhausting. I always saw Chinese people working hard for money, like staying up 24/7 to run a noodle shop. The pressure from society is also harsh, as you mention. Getting married, having kids, making tons of money, buying a home… eesh, it’s too much.

    I think being poor anywhere is quite tough. Being poor in America would be simply awful.

  8. Cat

    I’m currently reading Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China by Leslie T. Chang and it certainly sounds like life can be extremely exhausting in China. Her descriptions of the daily lives of factory workers makes me truly grateful for all the small luxuries I take for granted (like getting enough sleep and having days off).

    • It can be. There are a lot of jobs that make you earn enough money to just get by, but the working hours are crazy and the work is very repetitive. My mother-in-law was working in a local factory before she retired, but she seemed to enjoy it or at least have made a few good friends in her years there. I guess everyone’s different!

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