Chinese society has traditionally prided itself on its notion of filial piety and jinglao, or respect for the elderly.
But a survey released by China Central Television last week puts another dent in China’s self-image as a place where the elderly are cherished. It found that 33.4% of the people surveyed visited their parents just “once a year”.
Nearly 12% said that they hadn’t seen their folks in “many years”, while just 16% – presumably those who live just down the road – said they managed to visit them weekly.
Add up the first two categories and it’s hardly a picture of a jinglao society, with more than 45% of Chinese seeing their parents at most once a year (the survey was released on CCTV’s nightly News 1+1 show and didn’t cite the sample size).
The result? Moral agonising among policymakers.
So much so that government is proposing a new solution: making regular visits to parents a legal obligation.
In a proposed amendment to China’s 1996 elderly persons rights law, the idea was submitted to the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress for debate last week.
That means that the measures are being seriously considered (if the Standing Committee decides the proposals should become law, they are generally accepted by the NPC’s general body).
The law would oblige children who live apart from their parents to “visit often”. But the obvious problem is how to enforce the new rules.
“Some are wondering if it is reasonable, or even possible, to establish a legal standard on the frequency of visits to elderly parents living on their own,” pondered the Shanghai Daily.
And it’s not necessarily that Chinese citizens don’t want to visit their parents. Often, it’s more a case that it can be difficlt to make the trip. Large chunks of the population still earn very little, but live far from home. Hundreds of millions of people have left their villages in search of jobs in the larger cities, and paid holiday periods are limited.
But China is greying fast, creating new pressure on offspring to care for their parents.
The state-run China Daily reported that by the end of last year there were 185 million senior citizens, a number that will exceed 200 million by next year. By 2033 it will reach an astonishing 400 million, creating a burden of care for society in general.
China is undergoing great social change and strengthening morality with legislation is the right move, Shandong University law professor Xiao Jinming told CCTV.
“Making ‘Going Home Often’ the law will enter people’s hearts, and every family member will take on their responsibility better,” Xiao said.
Another statistic offered by CCTV was that many think it’s right to legislate on jinglao.
More than 42% of people surveyed supported the idea of mandating home visits, the news programme said. Nearly 36% opposed the idea, with more than 22% saying they were indifferent.
In other words, while few get home regularly, a greater number think that they should be making the effort.
What that tells WiC is that filial guilt is on the rise, and that many believe the state should get involved to make it easier to spend more time with parents. Obliging employers to offer more paid holidays so that people can visit home more frequently might be a start.
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