China too plays sillyhuggers*
SHACKLE, in Sydney, Australia
Australia's highly infectious Free Hugs syndrome, which is sweeping through
the western world, causing normally sane grown men and women to embrace
strangers in public places, is also affecting young people in Asia. The latest
outbreak has just been reported from mainland China, where traditionally
impassive Chinese have started playing sillyhuggers.
"Hugging for Chinese people is as rare as speaking English at home," says a
report in the national English language newspaper China Daily. "But free
hug campaigns are spreading across the country's major cities, such as Beijing,
making this alien custom more popular.
"Dozens of netizens in Changsha, capital of Central China's Hunan Province,
have initiated the campaigns, offering a heart-felt hug and smiling faces.
"According to Yu Le, founder of the free hug group in Beijing, she drew
inspiration for the action after seeing a video on YouTube (www.youtube.com)
about Juan Mann, an Australian who, noticing how sad everyone looked on the
trips he takes, launched a mission to reach out and hug strangers to brighten
The newspaper quotes Yu, a dancing teacher, as saying, "As a stranger in the
city myself, I felt the estrangement and apathy keenly at times. I felt the
impulse to start the group immediately."
Using a "personal website", Yu gathered a group of like-minded people, who
began hugging AIDS patients, disabled people, helpless migrant workers, and
people in terminal care wards in hospitals.
But Yu and her friends face a major problem. As the China Daily points out:
In this Eastern society, where emotions are kept under control and
touching of others is seldom initiated, the hugging of strangers has
prompted fear, misunderstanding, refusals and even attacks.
Many of the hugging youths were scolded by police, mostly for blocking
pedestrians' paths in the ever-more crowded cities.
"If they have the time to hug people, why don't they use the time to do
something more useful and concrete, such as helping someone in need?" said
Liu Zhen, a Peking University student.
But many Chinese still support their action. Huang Wenqing, 56, of
Beijing, said "indifference is a major problem in current society, which is
driven by material profit. I personally approve their action, and I want to
join them in the future."
The China Daily predicts that "slowly but surely, the huggers will
Free hugs have already spread to Korea. The website Collective Heart
says: "The Free Hugs Campaign has officially spread in a big way. Korea's own
version launched on YouTube yesterday and already has over 60,000 views, placing
it in the Top 10 videos viewed today.
"It's interesting to see what the YouTube community gravitates toward. I love
the idea of free hugs. We all have to start somewhere, and maybe that's what
this world really needs right now."
An anonymous 24-year-old Australian schoolteacher who calls himself Juan
Mann (pronounced One Man, a bilingual pun) kicked off the Free Hugs
craze in 2004 It has snowballed as it rolls around the cyberworld, and nowadays
few countries are immune to the craze.
On his much-visited website he describes how it all began:
I'd been living in London when my world turned upside down and I'd had to
come home. By the time my plane landed back in Sydney, all I had left was a
carry-on bag full of clothes and a world of troubles. No one to welcome me
back, no place to call home. I was a tourist in my hometown.
Standing there in the arrivals terminal, watching other passengers
meeting their waiting friends and family with open arms and smiling faces,
hugging and laughing together, I wanted someone out there to be waiting for
me. To be happy to see me. To smile at me. To hug me.
So I got some cardboard and a marker and made a sign. I found the busiest
pedestrian intersection in the city and held that sign aloft, with the words
"Free Hugs" on both sides.
And for 15 minutes, people just stared right through me. The first person
who stopped, tapped me on the shoulder and told me how her dog had just died
that morning. How that morning had been the one year anniversary of her only
daughter dying in a car accident. How what she needed now, when she felt
most alone in the world, was a hug. I got down on one knee, we put our arms
around each other and when we parted, she was smiling.
Everyone has problems and for sure mine haven't compared. But to see
someone who was once frowning, smile even for a moment, is worth it every
The Free Hug movement went gangbusters when up-and-coming band Sickpuppies
used video footage from Juan Mann’s campaign for a music video to their song
“All the Same” and posted it on YouTube last September.
More than seven million people have viewed the video, which has inspired
thousands around the globe to launch their own campaigns.
And filmmaker Lisa Murray's "Free Hugs in Hollywood" video was featured
recently on Yahoo's home page. Within two hours, it had been viewed more than
In Toronto, Canada, according to a report in
The Star Joanna
Potratz, 24, and Laura Weaver, 20, stood at Yonge and Dundas Sts., giving out
free hugs for an hour in -9 C weather, with the windchill.
In all, 22 strangers, from toddlers to grandmas, got hugs from the pair.
That's more than one hug every three minutes.
Peter Pisico, a 35-year-old Torontonian, saw Weaver, a Humber College
student, giving out free hugs at the same location a few weeks ago. He was
too skittish when he faced his first chance. But this time he decided to go
for it. "It's just different. I am kind of surprised it's happening in
Toronto. It's free and it's fun and it's inspirational. So why not?" asks
Another Toronto hugger, Deborah Isaac, 24 said, "One person tried to grab
my bum." She told him why she was offering free hugs, and he apologized.
Last October, the Oprah Winfrey nationwide TV show flew Juan Mann from Sydney
to the US for a live interview. After that, he launched a Free Help Campaign, an
online charity connecting people in need with those wanting to provide help.
Juan Mann partially revealed his identity in an interview with Jenna Good, of
Who Magazine when he said:
I live in Roseville, near Chatswood [a Sydney surburb] in a quiet little
area, nothing much goes on and that’s the way I like it. It’s like a little
refuge. I went to university four times and I always do really well and I
don’t feel challenged.
Giving free hugs is one thing that I’ve gone back to week after week
without fail because I know I’m doing something. It doesn’t matter that the
money’s not there and that it’s not a career path, what matters is that it
makes a difference to somebody’s life just for a moment. Life ambitions?
I’ve never had an answer!
Last month, three students from the Las Viñas secondary school in Mollina,
Malaga, Spain, hugged passers-by in the streets, J.J.Buiza reported in the
weekly newspaper SUR in English. He wrote:
It was an unforgettable experience for both them and the people they
hugged. “We had not expected people to be so willing to be hugged,” says
16-year-old Juan Carlos Reyes, one of the three huggers.
The Malaga video, made on calle Larios, was placed on the Internet on New
Year’s Eve, and has since attracted approximately 50,000 hits, which is the
population of Mollina multiplied by ten.
“I was very excited when I saw a Free Hug video for the first time, and I
decided there and then it would be a great idea for some of the pupils to
do,” says ángel Rueda, the computer science teacher in the secondary school.
It was he who actually taped the hugging sessions in the streets, and who
edited the final film.
Many people from all over Spain have since called to congratulate him on
his initiative, saying they were deeply touched by the Internet video
showing the reactions of the recipients of the hugs.
"It was a wonderful success,” says Yamila García. He hugged people of all
ages: men, women and children, old and young, including firemen, waiters,
street cleaners, cyclists and postmen. “There was one old woman who was so
touched by what we did that she gave us a lottery ticket and a bar of
chocolate,” says Yamila.
Creative Jo, an attractive 24-year-old female blogger in Bidor, Perak,
Malaysia, has written a long and interesting story about hugging. She says:
The video is about free hugs by this guy name Juan Mann. Well, I wish I
can be as brave as him - I mean...if Msian are open to the extend that they
will not take advantage of a hug....I wun mind trying giving free hugs. =)
But well, I dun blame on Msia totally....mayb part of myself is not ready to
that extend yet. But I really lurves HUGS! I wish I can heals ppl hearts
with one big and warm hugs.
Hugs that heals a broken heart. The last time I hugged a friend....she
cried in my arms. I am not sure if my hugs help a lot, but at least that's
what I'm always ever ready to give it to her. I can remember I hugged her
and keep on telling her "It's ok". We were sobbing. That's how emotional I
can be. Cant be sure to what extend a hug will helps, but at least it
express our cares and love to a broken heart.
New York author, broadcaster and psychic Ellie Crystal has doubts about
accepting free hugs in the Big Apple. She wrote:
To hug a stranger goes to many factors. If a man was holding up a sign
asking for a hug, where I live in NYC, I would be cautious. Too much big
city conditioning with crazy people, pickpockets and horny men. If a woman
held up a sign, most men would go for the hug, and perhaps women as well. I
know me ... I would walk away. What would you do?
Well, Ellie, I'm one of many grumpy old men who hate the thought of being
hugged by a stranger (unless she's young and pretty). We prefer to shake hands.
FOOTNOTE. Some 50 years ago, I wrote as Sidney Mann, as stand-in editor of
the front-page trivia column of the Sydney afternoon newspaper The Daily
Mirror. So perhaps I can claim to be One Mann's grandfather.
A young South Australian newspaperman, Rupert Murdoch, later bought the
Mirror, and merged it with his Sydney Telegraph, giving birth to a
hybrid morning tabloid, the Daily Telegraph-Mirror, popularly referred to
as The Terror. These days the Mirror part of its name has
disappeared, and the paper is simply called The Daily Telegraph. It's one
of hundreds of publications around the world owned by the US-based News Corp,
controlled by an older Rupert Murdoch, an American citizen and
* To play sillybuggers means messing around, wasting time. Example:
Stop playing sillybuggers and finish your homework. -
Story first posted
Copyright © 2007