In China, a recent proposal by the Civil Affairs Ministry aims to create a law making adult children liable for not visiting their parents. China’s National People’s Congress could consider creating a legal basis for parents to allege filial abandonment as an amendment to a 1996 law on the rights of the aged.
Although filial piety no longer holds the same importance in Chinese society that it once did, the idea that parents should be supported by their children has ancient roots in Confucian mores. In China, children who avoid their responsibilities to their parents garner censure. In the province of Shandong, for example, a court ordered three daughters to pay their eighty-year-old mother the equivalent of between $159 and $225 a month after she claimed that they ignored her and behaved as if she were a burden.
As the population of elderly people in China steadily increases, concerns about their care have sparked national debate and deliberation. A study completed by the National Committee on Aging, an advisory group to China’s State Council, estimates that half of all Chinese over sixty suffer from chronic illnesses and that an even greater number live apart from their children in separate establishments. A sociologist at the Tsinghua University in Beijing, compiled facts from the World Health Organization to find that suicide rates among Chinese between the ages of seventy and seventy-four tripled in urban areas between 2002 and 2009. He attributed the spike to the fact that older people “are increasingly moving into lonely high-rises and feeling forgotten.”
The elderly in China are not just getting national attention for feeling forgotten, but also for feeling too heavily relied upon. In the province of Jiangsu, a local ordinance was passed not only encouraging adult children to visit their parents, but preventing them from demanding money and goods. Adult children who are too dependent on their parents are not respected in Chinese society. Some are called kenlao zu: those who nibble on their elders.
In the US, laws endorse customary notions of familial duty, proscribing things like parental neglect and spousal desertion. Given the situation at hand, do you think the Chinese state has a role to play in arranging family relationships? Should the law try to balance the concerns of different age groups?