Many times over the years I have shared an anecdote with various colleagues who work in China about an article I once read in the Mainland Chinese newspaper, The Global Times, about “Election Sickness” in Taiwan during the second presidential election in March 2000. The article was memorable for its recounting of the deleterious effects that the democratic elections were having upon the bodies and minds of the electorate. I remembered clipping the article and saving it, but had forgotten where. From time to time I have tried searching for the digital article online, but never managed to find it. I was actually beginning to wonder if my memory of it was even real.
Finally just a few weeks ago while going through some old documents I came upon the article that I remembered: “A Prevalence of ‘Election Sickness’ In Taiwan this Spring.” The article tells the tale of Taiwanese voters overcome with distress during election time. With heart palpitations, psychiatric problems, mental anxiety, mood swings and other disorders, fevered election participants run to hospitals for aid, abandon their families to support candidates, slip into depression when their candidates lose, and seek sleeping pills to relax.
Certainly implicit in the narrative of the short article is that the choices and stresses of democracy on the Chinese constitution need to be carefully considered! The election is harming the participant’s individual bodies and, by extension, family members and society at large. Here is an English translation of the article:
A PREVALENCE OF “ELECTION SICKNESS” IN TAIWAN THIS SPRING
Global Times / March 21, 2000
Recently, due to the election of local leaders, hospitals in Taiwan have been enjoying brisk business. Emergency rooms of many hospitals are receiving voters who have fainted due to the overwhelming excitement. Many voters also show symptoms of heart palpitations, chest distress and other symptoms because they worry too much about the election situation. Thus, they keep coming to the hospital to buy sleeping pills and sedatives.
Chen Guohua, a psychiatrist at the Cathay Hospital of Taiwan, said that in the past month, the number of patients who have come to the psychiatric clinic for treatment was 20% to 30% higher than in the past. A considerable part of the increase in patients were enthusiastic voters. Worried about drastic changes of the election, they have experienced mental anxiety, mood swings, panic, impatience, and even sleep deprivation, so they turn to the hospital for help. Many patients were still wearing their colorful campaign gear when they arrive at the hospital. Even then they still try to convince the the medical staff to vote, exclaiming that if the candidate they favored loses, Taiwan would be doomed!
A middle-aged street vendor who, for over a month, traveled across Taiwan following a candidate left all of his business and housework to his wife. At the psychiatric clinic his wife lamented, “Why is that ‘stranger’ more important than the lives of our family?”
Actually, psychiatric doctors in Taiwan have seen too many of these kinds of scenes. What is even more disconcerting is that the election only produces one winner, so how many supporters of other candidates will arrive depressed, smashing down the hospital door?
There also exists an interesting and illustrative phenomenon. After the election, the number of people who travel abroad rises rapidly, which leads to an increase in flight reservations and an economic boost to travel agencies. Some people have pointed out that voters who were were tense and uncertain about the outcome of the election, upon its conclusion, really need to take off and unwind.
Many doctors are concerned that after the election results are announced, supporters of the losing candidates who cannot accept the results might slide into unhappiness or depression. Zhang Dianqi, a psychiatrist at the Taian Hospital, observes that “post-election depression” is a real phenomenon, but not a mental illness in a medical sense. Supporting the candidates in an election is different from the worship of famous people because the former is a projection of “values”—the connection between “political values” and “shared future for mankind”—while the latter is mostly the projection of emotions. So therefore, when the candidate in an election is defeated, this will be particularly difficult for supporters to bear and this failure can lead to emotional disorders.