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Senior immigrants adapt to city life


Editor's notes:
With the process of urbanization spreading across the country, more and more Chinese are moving to places that have different language, diet, environment and lifestyle. Although all immigrants face difficulties, it's usually the elderly who find it more difficult to adjust to strange circumstances. Here we share stories of some senior citizens in their own words who have come to cities to take care of their children and grandchildren.


Senior immigrants adapt to city life

Senior immigrants adapt to city life

Yuan Qiaoyue, 71, from Liaocheng city, East China's Shandong province, 8 years in Beijing 

She has been in Beijing for eight years helping to take care of her youngest son for the first three years and then babysit her granddaughter for the past five years. It's a rather tough situation for Yuan as her hearing and sight have deteriorated due to old age. She finds it especially difficult to cross the road while leaving and picking up her granddaughter from pre-school. Yuan says the two trips daily are the most challenging.

Her daughter-in-law doesn't want her father-in-law to come to live with them in Beijing as he has a lung disease and she is afraid that his disease might put her daughter’s health at risk.

The fact that her husband cannot be with her is another factor that worries Yuan a lot. She is forced to travel from Beijing and Shandong, a 500 kilometer journey, two or three times a year to look after her husband on her own. Given her physical condition, it is a “tough but necessary” commute.

Even though she has been here for eight years, she cannot get used to the life in Beijing, especially its food, lifestyle and language.

She does not get along well with her daughter-in-law and the tension depresses the old woman but she cannot confide her problems to anyone as nobody in the neighborhood speaks her dialect.

Although facing so many problems, Yuan chooses to stay, calling taking care of her son her “duty” and that she has to make the “sacrifice” for her son and grandchild. The good news is that she will go back home after her granddaughter starts attending primary school next year. And she will finally return to the place she is familiar with, and most importantly, look after her ill husband.


Senior immigrants adapt to city life

Senior immigrants adapt to city life

Wang Shuangyi (L), 63, and Yi Xiuying, 66, a couple from Anshan, Northeastern China’s Liaoning province, 6 year in Beijing. 

They have been in Beijing since their daughter-in-law became pregnant six years ago. Now that their grandson has started going to school, they don't have to spend much time taking care of him. As a result, they have much more spare time.

Their son has rented an apartment for them to live in, and gives them money for living expenses. “It was hard for us in the first two years when our grandson was just born but now we enjoy our time here.” They go out for walk in the nearby park every morning, and watch TV in the evening.

Occasionally, their son and grandson come to visit them, especially on weekends, and this is the happiest time for them. The couple is not willing to go back to hometown and plan to stay here for the rest of their lives.

The only thing that worries them is that what if they fall ill as the rural cooperation medical insurance does not cover their treatment in Beijing.


Senior immigrants adapt to city life

Senior immigrants adapt to city life

Wang Luzhi(R), 63, from Dongying,Shandong province,  Liu Canhua, 62, from Tai'an, Shandong province, 2 years in Beijing

Wang and Liu became friends when they found out that both of them came from the rural areas of Shandong Province and that their grandsons' birthdays were just one day apart. Both came to Beijing in 2012, but still cannot get used to the urban lifestyle. Owing to the differences in dialect, they found it difficult to integrate into the community they live in before they met each other. Now they share their problems with each other as they can communicate in their language freely and clearly.

Wang is going back home together with her grandson on National Day and will stay there for a while. As private kindergartens in Beijing are expensive than in her hometown, the family think it will be better to raise the grandson in Shandong until he reaches the age to attend primary school.

Wang said her going back to her hometown will lighten the burden of her son. Her sister Liu is sad over Wang leaving. She says she also wants to raise her grandson in Shandong, but is unsure whether her daughter-in-law will allow it.


Senior immigrants adapt to city life

Senior immigrants adapt to city life

Liu li(R), 64, from Dalian, Liaoning province, 6 years in Beijing

In order to take care of their grandson, Liu Li and her husband came to Beijing from Dalian in 2008. Right from the start, they got accustomed to life in Beijing, except the hot and humid summer. The couple has good relationship with their son and daughter-in-law, which Liu is proud of.

“Many admire my relationship with my daughter-in-law and ask how they too could have same relationship with their daughter-in-law. We just support the thoughts and behaviors of the younger generation.” Even when some divergence occurs, they adapt themselves to meet the needs of their children.

Since their grandson attends kindergarten, they have more spare time, so they go to dance in the park every day. They have made their life more colorful by making friends with many dancing partners from Beijing and many other places.

They plan to spend their twilight years in Beijing with their family. The only thing that bothers them is the medical insurance as their hukou, or household registration, is not in Beijing therefore it will be hard for them to use the insurance when they go to hospital in Beijing.

They hope that a more effective and convenient national policy will be soon implemented.


Senior immigrants adapt to city life

Senior immigrants adapt to city life

Wang Jian, 64, from central China's Henan province, 10 year in Newcastle, UK,

After most of his family moved to the United Kingdom 10 years ago, Wang went aboard to live with his children. He has no intention of going back to China since all his children are now in the UK.

“The biggest problem is the language. It’s difficult to communicate with locals and I don’t have many friends here due to culture differences. All I’ve got are old people who also came from China,” he said.

Having retired years ago, he sometimes helps his children look after his grandchildren. He thinks it’s better that he moved to the UK as it would have been lonely in China.

He is happy to help take care of his grandchildren as his children are busy at work.  


Senior immigrants adapt to city life

Senior immigrants adapt to city life

Du Peng, chief of the Institute of Gerontology at Renmin University of China.

“It is becoming a common social phenomenon as more and more senior Chinese move with their children. It’s estimated that more than 300,000 elderly people now live in Beijing. Most of them come to take care of their children and grandchildren due to changing household pattern and traditional culture.

The elderly people face more difficulties than the youngsters thus our government, non-governmental organizations and the family should help them. The authorities should take measures to bring the immigrants and the locals together and tackle trans-regional problems, such as the use of medical insurance in different places. The family, especially the children of the seniors, should pay more attention to their parents’ emotions and communicate and understand them.

The final solution lies in social development. It will not be a problem when our country becomes a developed nation and the elderly could lead a life as comfortable their western counterparts.”