Filial tradition in China withering

By Zhang Yuchen (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-10-25 08:11
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Elderly entering old age without support of kids

GUANGZHOU - A recent study of the elderly in parts of Guangdong province, in southern China, has shown that the tradition of children supporting their aged parents is slowly fading away.

The survey of nearly 1,300 people aged 60 or above, living in urban areas, found that, more and more, the elderly are living by themselves and are instead providing financial support to their adult children.

Filial tradition in China withering
Two elderly women applaud a performance by young volunteers who come regularly to the Songtang Hospice, in Beijing, to offer care and entertainment for the older patients, on Oct 16. [Wang Jing / China Daily]

The study was done by the Guangdong Academy of Social Sciences' elderly affairs research center, from July to September of this year, and found that more than 10 percent of the people have to give monetary support to their adult children on a monthly basis. A third of them give money to their children from time to time.

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Some 16 percent of the elderly said they found this hard to bear because giving away a part of their pension had a serious impact on the quality of life in retirement.

Chinese tradition over the centuries, as has been the case in many other countries, has been for people to have as many children as possible so that they can rely on them for support when they get too old to care for themselves.

They often live with their children and help with the housework or take care of grandchildren, when the parents are busy with their work.

The study found more than 40 percent of the elderly comply with tradition and take care of grandchildren, while around 20 percent help with the housework.

But changing social conditions are now forcing more of the urban elderly to fend for themselves and 62 percent of them live apart from their grown-up children.

And, only 48 percent of these "empty nesters" can expect a weekly visit from their children, while around 28 percent can expect a visit once a month. For 24 percent, it's only once every year.

Perhaps surprisingly, even when they live with their children, most of the elderly are confronted with loneliness. The study found that more than 75 percent of the elderly long for greater spiritual support from their children.

One 72-year-old man surnamed Chen, in Guangzhou's Baiyun district, said he felt a lack of communication with his son even though he can see his son's family frequently, since they live in the same community.

"I never have supper with my son' s family because I don't want to disturb the only part of the day when they have time to spend together," Chen said, "And because my son seldom expresses much, we talk less."

Once, he said, he was sick in bed for two months and his son didn't even notice.

According to some doctors, this empty-nester syndrome is becoming a social problem - one that can not be ignored.

"With an increasingly aging society, the number of elderly empty-nesters increases annually," said Zhang Yanchi, a doctor at Guangzhou's Baiyun Psychiatric Hospital.

Li Dandan, of the Guangzhou Volunteers' Union, has suggested that it would be better if the elderly just spoke directly with their children about their feelings and their situation. An alternative is to communicate more with other elderly people in the community.

Guangdong had 10.47 million people aged 60 or above by the end of 2009, Nanfang Daily reported in February.