Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

The elderly should not tell others to vacate seats

By Wu Yixue (China Daily) Updated: 2014-09-17 07:50

It is saddening to read reports on how senior citizens' request for seats in public transport vehicles have led to quarrels and even scuffles with younger people. If people had even the least "respect for the elderly and love for the young", or showed some mutual understanding, such sorry incidents could have been avoided.

On Sept 10, an elderly bus passenger in Zhengzhou, Henan province, died while quarrelling with a younger man who refused to yield his seat to him. The senior citizen slapped the younger man several times before he collapsed on the bus floor and died, witnesses said. The tragedy came just days after a young bus passenger in Wuhan, Hubei province, was reportedly beaten by five elderly passengers for refusing to offer his seat to one of them.

Whether or not younger passengers should offer their seats to their elderly counterparts (or for that matter, pregnant women, the physically handicapped or children) should not have become a contentious issue. Earmarking seats for senior citizens in public transport vehicles is part of social norms. And by voluntarily offering their seats to the elderly, perhaps in return for a "thank you" or some other expression of gratitude, younger passengers exhibit a facet of harmonious society.

Mutual respect, mutual care and mutual concession remain integral to Chinese society, especially because it faces a rising aging population. The lack of respect and care for senior citizens at home, or public places or transport, may reflect the waning standards of morality in society. But when a video showing a young woman kicking an elderly passenger in a bus in Xiamen, Fujian province, went viral in April, she was severely criticized by people across the social divide.

A certain number of seats are designated for specific groups, including senior citizens, in buses and subways. The problem is that some senior citizens, when they find their peers occupying the designated seats, ask younger passengers, sometimes rudely, to vacate their seats for them. So some elderly people too are to blame for the unsavory incidents.

According to a survey published in China Youth Daily in July 2013, most Chinese believe that offering their seats to "special groups" (including the elderly) in buses and subways is a voluntary rather than a compulsory act. Although the majority of respondents said they had offered their seats to elderly people at least once, they were not always willing to do so, especially when they were very tired or didn't feel well.

Offering one's seat to the elderly or sick may be basic civilized behavior, but no one should be forced to do so. In fact, some respondents to a survey said they would feel morally belittled if senior citizens forced them to vacate their seats.

Sometime ago, the media reported that a senior citizen carried a camera while commuting by bus every day, and took photographs of young people who refused to yield their seats to the elderly and posted them on the Internet to shame them. But his attempt to humiliate the "unyielding" passengers did not find favor with all netizens, with some criticizing his action. There have also been reports of senior citizens asking younger passengers to give up their seats and scolding, even beating them up, after they refused to do so.

Indeed, some seats should be designated for elderly people in buses and subways. But that should not put people occupying regular seats under any moral obligation to yield them to senior citizens.

Chinese society has had a long tradition of "respecting the old and caring for the young", which should prompt young and healthy people to offer their seats to "special groups". But senior citizens should at least be polite while asking younger passengers to yield regular seats to them, because they have no right to do so.

The elderly should not tell others to vacate seats

The author is a writer with China Daily. wuyixue@chinadaily.com.cn

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