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China Says Visit Mom and Dad, or Else!

Chinese family

Time to visit grandma?

When was the last time you visited your own mom and dad? If it’s been awhile, and if you lived in China, you could be in some serious hot water. And not just with mom and dad.

The idea that adult children should take care of their aging parents is something that’s deeply ingrained in Chinese culture. Those who shirk their responsibilities are often met with scorn — and now, potentially legal consequences, according to an article in yesterday’s New York Times.

Under a proposal submitted last Monday by the Civil Affairs Ministry to China’s State Council, adult children would be required by law to regularly visit their elderly parents. If they do not, their parents can sue them.

The Times article cites a November report by China’s National Committee on Aging, an advisory group to the State Council, which shows a major shift in China’s living arrangements: Whereas once several generations shared the same dwelling, more than half of all Chinese over the age of 60 now live separately from their adult children. That percentage shoots up to 70 percent in some major cities. This increase in the numbers of elderly Chinese living apart from their children has taken a toll. China now has the world’s third highest elderly suicide rate, trailing only South Korea and Taiwan. Mr. Jing Jun, a sociology professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing, says that older people in China are increasingly moving into lonely high-rises and feeling forgotten. As a result, the average suicide rate among people 70 to 74 living in cities nearly tripled between 2002 and 2009, compared with the average rate for the 1990s, his research shows.

On the flipside, some Chinese parents can’t seem to get away from their adult children. According to The Chinese Research Center on Aging, 3 in 10 adult Chinese remain partly or totally financially dependent on their parents. The Chinese have a name for these adult children: “kenlao zu” — literally, people who nibble on their elders.

Ninie Wang, international director of the Gerontological Society of China, a Beijing-based nonprofit research group, says “The whole society needs to start seeing that we need to give the elderly more care and attention.”

Still, Mr. Jing does not believe that the proposed amendment to a 1996 law on rights of the aged will pass when it’s considered by the National People’s Congress, China’s government-appointed legislature, during its annual session in March. “The national delegates are rational enough,” Mr. Jing said.

Still, maybe it’s a wake-up call for everyone who’s overdue for a visit with mom and dad, no matter where you live.

Read the full article here.

Photo: Creative Commons/Flickr; by matt512

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