The family problems and social problems caused by the death of the only child (shidu) have aroused great concern in china. According to the mortality estimate, more than 1 million families in China have lost their only children, and more than 7,600 families are joining the shidu group each year. The death of the only child not only caused various physical and psychological illness to the parents, but also brought pressure from the economy, old-age care and traditional culture for the shidu parents.
Some shidu parents post their feelings thoughts on the social media. They share pictures, participate in discussions of heated topics, and interact with online friends on social media. Due to the strong avoidance of social contact of shidu parents, their mass digital footprints on social media provide an opportunity for exploring the cognitive, behavioral, and psychological state of the shidu parents. The analysis of social behaviors on online social networks can help better understand the current life status as well as trends of collective behaviors of the shidu parents, and playing an important role in both promoting the shidu parents’ well-being and maintaining social stability.
The study was conducted on Sina Weibo, one of the largest social media in China. Three typical social behaviors of the shidu parents were found on Weibo: follow, mention (@), and transfer. Among them, follow is related user popularity; transfer represents the approval of the content; and mention represents the acceptance of the mentioned user and the desire to communicate with. Through the analysis of 228 unsuccessful microblog social behaviors, the research mainly found three typical microblog usage patterns: continuous bonding with their deceased children, participation in the activities of rights protection, and mutual connection with other shidu parents.
Figure 1. The mention network (left) and the transfer network (right) of shidu parents.
We found six shidu parents who high-frequently mentioned their lost children, and another three shidu parents transferred their children’s weibo for more than 300 times in Weibo. In addition, many Weibo users posted short poems or long essay on special days to express their grief and condole to the loss of their only child.
Shidu parents were more likely to participate in rights protection activities. They continually talked with the government and the media on Weibo, as well as transferred more posts about rights protection. By exposing the experience of lost only child and participating in rights protection, the shidu parents could gain the new self-identity as a shiduer and gain more social attention as well.
Mutual Connection for Warmth
As a social platform, Weibo enables shidu parents to meet people who have the same experience. Except from mutual follow, shidu parents often transfer each other’s posts about remembrance and right protection, which indicated that they have strong mutual support for each other. In addition, some shidu parents would mention other shidu parents on the post of life records such as outing or birthday celebration, indicating that good relationships have been established among the shidu parents. The gaining of new self-identity as a shiduer is helpful for attaining social support and integrating into the community and society.
The study was funded by the National Social Science Fund's general project “Research on the Mutual Aid Model of Losing Individuals”. The article has been published on Population and Development in February 2019:
Liu M., Liu T., Wang X., Zhu T. (2019). A Survey on the Social Network Behaviors of Shidu Parents Based on Weibo: Remembrance, Rights Protection, and Mutual Connection for Warmth. Population and Development, 25(2), pp. 57-63.
Institute of Psychology