Almost unheard of 20 years ago, eating disorders are silently maiming a generation of young Chinese

“I knew very well that I was not having a stomach problem, nor had I been in a bad mood, nor had I been too tired to study,” wrote Xuanxuan, a Shanghai ninth-grader, in an eating disorders support group on Baidu Forums last summer. “I became abnormal due to other reasons—my unspeakable secret.”

Since she was 9 years old, Xuanxuan would lock herself in her room every night after dinner. She would weigh herself, and then lie on the floor in tears. Like an estimated millions of Chinese, mostly young women, Xuanxuan struggled with anorexia nervosa, a psycho-physiological disorder that manifests in self-starvation in pursuit of a distorted body ideal.

Anorexia nervosa is the deadliest mental disorder in the world, according to the US National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. Around 18 to 20 percent of those who suffer from it die within 20 years due to organ failure or suicide.

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author Tina Xu (徐盈盈)

Tina Xu is the former culture editor at The World of Chinese. She writes across film, literature, and society, spanning from indie documentaries to diaspora communities. Her stories for TWOC received the 2021 SOPA Award for Excellence in Regional Reporting on the Environment, and were finalists in Women’s Issues and Photography.

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