Chinese Proposal Supports Claims by Parents against their Adult Children

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?


  1. On one hand, family arrangements should solely be left to the family unless abuse exists or other violations of law, but on the other children supporting their parents has history in Chinese society. This history combined with the increased percentage of the elderly population in China, and the percentage of senior citizens that have illnesses mandates the state get involved. The adults capable of helping the elderly, either financially or otherwise, should feel morally obligated to do so. However, unfortunately, there are adult children who are not only abondening their elderly parents but depending on them. This abondenment and/or dependance has led to health concerns within that age group and increased suicide rates. I would think these continued health issues in this increasing age group calls for the Chinese state to get involved.

  2. There are already claims being brought in court by elderly Chinese parents that their children have abandoned them however, there is currently no legal recourse for this allegation. The amendment would allow these claims to be heard by a court and it seems to be that monthly payments of damages would be instated if the children were in fact found to have been neglecting their parents. A Beijing lawyer, Qian Jun stated that this legal duty to visit ones parents however, would infringe on personal liberty. He explains in an article in China Daily, that this goal should be achieved by moral education rather than a legally enforceable duty. Additionally, this law would be very hard to enforce, it would really depend on the elderly parent brining forth the claim in court.
    Furthermore, this law would only seem to be a possible remedy for financial support that the children would give the elders and would not remedy the cultural respect or companionship that also may be lacking. Even though taking care of ones parents as they age is important in many cultures, this law does not seem to be the best way to fix the issue of filial abandonment in China. I foresee in the coming years, more social services being provided by the Chinese government due to the change in family relationships and more elderly parents living on their own. In fact, the current amendment that would create the legal duty to care for your parents also encourages local Chinese governments to provide pensions to residents older than 80 years old and to offer them free medical screening as well. This may indicate a shift towards care for the elderly being more of a responsibility of the state than it has been in the past.

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