Shanghai witnesses a revival of neighborhood spirit

Wang Yanlin
Lockdown has been tough on everyone, but it has brought us all closer. And that is a benefit that will likely outlast the pandemic.
Wang Yanlin
Shanghai witnesses a revival of neighborhood spirit

"Tuanzhang," or group buying coordinators, are seen in a compound in Jiading District. They have played an essential role in helping neighbors purchase daily necessities during the lockdown and are a good example of "prosocial behaviors."

There has been renewal of close relationships between neighbors in Shanghai, as people in lockdown have become closer than before.

Shanghai Daily has compiled a "dictionary" of key words commonly used in the ongoing fight against COVID-19, and "neighbor" is one of them.

The city's lockdown has largely improved relationships between neighbors in Shanghai, many of whom barely knew each other before because of an insulated lifestyle in modern apartment buildings and the sheer size of the city.

In my case, even the family living opposite to us was only a nodding acquaintance before the lockdown. But now I can name all the people in my building, and a lot of them have been newly listed in my WeChat contacts.

Hu Jianqiang, a professor at Fudan University's School of Management, said the lockdown has "reconstructed" neighborhood relations in many communities in Shanghai, making "prosocial behaviors" more recognizable.

The term prosocial behaviors refers to the intent to benefit others. During the lockdown, providing help for neighbors, sharing food and daily necessities, or smiling through a mask for cooperation, are good examples of prosocial behaviors.

I received a lot of favors from my neighbors in the past two months and have returned some. Each time we needed to go downstairs to do nucleic acid tests, one of my neighbors would send information to our apartment building's WeChat group; and whenever there were offerings of group purchases, we would begin "teamwork" to get the exact amount of food we needed instead of struggling with the question of "to buy, or to waste."

Professor Hu's study also found via a survey of more than 8,000 people that Shanghai's prosocial behaviors are comparatively reserved, or in other words, people are rational. If there was any COVID-positive case in the neighborhood, people automatically refrained from prosocial behaviors. To stay COVID-free is clearly a priority for Shanghai residents.

It reminded me of the safety rules for an in-flight emergency on a plane. Only after people put their own oxygen mask on should they help others.

In Shanghainese, there is a premium compliment for a wise person: "Ling De Qing," meaning the person has clear logic, correct judgment, and efficient actions.

So this noble trait of Shanghai people is partly presented in the renewed neighborly relations that may contribute to Shanghai's evolving city culture: We are more intimate, but there are strict lines, for example, for safety and privacy.

Traditional Chinese wisdom tells us that a good neighbor is better than relatives afar.

We may have seen a revival of this ancient wisdom in Shanghai.

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