According to Sigmund Freud, a human being’s psychosexual development has five stages: the oral, the anal, the phallic, the latent, and the genital. During the oral stage spanning from birth until the age of one, an infant satisfies its desires simply by putting all sorts of things into its mouth, whether it’s a pencil or its mother’s breast.
Most Chinese people have never developed beyond the oral stage of Freud’s theory and have the mental age of a six-month-old, argues psychologist Wu Zhihong. In his recently published book Nation of Giant Infants, Wu takes the psychological viewpoint to explain a wide range of social problems in China, including mama’s boys, tensions between mothers and daughter-in-laws, and suicides of left-behind rural kids. He claims that the “giant infant dream” is deeply rooted in the Chinese tradition of collectivism and filial piety.
“Most Chinese people are infants in search of their mothers,” Wu writes.
The 42-year-old provides mental health counseling in major Chinese cities including Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou, and is the author of a series of best-sellers on psychology. Prior to that, he wrote a column for the Guangzhou Daily newspaper. Published in December, his latest work Nation of Giant Infants has recently been removed from Chinese bookshops, drawing speculation among Chinese internet users that censors banned the book because it is offensive to Chinese beliefs and traditions.
The publisher, Zhejiang People’s Publishing House, pulled Wu’s book off shelves in both physical and online stores in China in mid-February. A staffer with the publisher said that the removal was due to bad print quality when asked by Quartz, but didn’t say when the book will become available again. An assistant to Wu said the publisher told her the same.
But that doesn’t explain why Luogic Talkshow, a popular online talkshow (link in Chinese) produced by former TV anchor Luo Zhenyu, scrapped an episode on Wu’s book. Some online discussions about the removal of the book have also been deleted (link in Chinese).
According to Wu, infants younger than six months live in symbiosis with their mothers. They can’t tell themselves apart from the outside world. They want everything to follow their own rules. And they don’t recognize anything between the two extremes of good and bad. Wu says these three characteristics summarize the majority of Chinese people.
For example, in an extended family in China, Wu writes, “Your business is my business, mine is also yours. I take too much responsibility for you, and you take too much for me. Otherwise you are a jerk, and I’ll feel guilty.” He notes in a recent interview (link in Chinese) that the phenomenon is reflected in a new hit Chinese dating show, where parents pick partners for their kids.
From a social perspective, Wu notes, Chinese people place a strong emphasis on collectivism because they can’t live on their own, both spiritually and materially speaking. They rely on guanxi, or personal connections, to get things done. Meanwhile, they prefer to let powerful figures such as their parents or the government make decisions for them.
Wu also challenges the Chinese government. He says mothers dominate Chinese families, while fathers are often missing in the role of a parent—just like Chinese rulers are absent in the role of government.
“Good fathers rarely exist, and more often they are bastards having desires,” he writes. “If Chinese families can have more powerful, good fathers, our politics will perhaps be more powerful and honest.”
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story ran with a headline that inadvertently suggested Quartz endorses the psychologist’s views. We regret the wording and have updated the headline to reflect the contents of the story.