China orders children to visit their aging parents


“China has for centuries prided itself on tight-knit families bound by filial piety, a Confucian concept that requires children to respect and take care of their parents for life.” Kids are even required to study virtuous examples of those who kept this ancient faith, but in today’s ever changing, competitive China, getting ahead often means leaving behind home, family, and tradition.

On Monday, China put into effect its solution: “Let parents sue their ungrateful offspring.” The legal avenue is included the Law on Protection of the Rights and Interests of Elderly People, which instructs that “family members who live apart from their parents should often visit or send regards to their parents.” The law was greeted by ridicule and criticism by Chinese Internet users. After all, how does one determine just how often is often enough for visits, and more importantly, the law contains no specific punishment for being a bad offspring.

One Chinese mother did not wait long for justice. A Mrs. Chu, 77, convinced a court in the city of Wuxi to order her daughter to compensate her financially and also visit her once every two months (and at least two public holidays per year).

Experts say that part of the problem is the distorting effect of China’s “one-child policy” on a modernizing society whose 194 million citizens over age 60 have few progeny to rely on for aid and comfort in their declining years. A son or daughter may have to provide assistance to parents and grandparents who can no longer work, and do so without contribution from siblings.

Hundreds of millions of Chinese have moved to cities for work, leaving parents behind in the countryside. Xia suggests China must push companies rather than children to allow employees enough vacation time to visit their parents. “I think it’s necessary to make old people happier, but not in the form of a law,” said Zhang Xuebin, 35, a Beijing civil servant who visits his parents each weekend.

Not everyone, including the elderly, is in full support of this law. Song, 70, saw her son sporadically while she was at her home in central Shanxi province and he worked in Beijing. He eventually earned enough to buy the house where she joined him a decade ago. “If my son’s too busy to take care of me, I prefer a retirement home, it doesn’t matter. But I’ll be happier to live with him until I die,” Song said.

In recent years more sons and daughters have placed their parents in retirement homes because the children are too busy to provide regular care or visits, said Wang Yan of the Jiade retirement home in east Beijing. But China has a shortage of housing for seniors outside their family homes, so the law may help, Wang said. “In our home, some seniors lack both visits and calls. No matter how carefully we look after them, they still need their children’s love,” she said. “I think this is a moral not legal question.”

What do you think about this law? Is this a moral or legal question? Considering there are no concrete consequences for young people who do not follow the new law, is it even effective?  Do you think the U.S. should have a law similar to this?

Article/Picture Source: USA Today


  1. Using laws to enforce moral obligations is not a good idea. Although one should take care of the people who raised them when they no can longer take care of themselves, forcing someone with the use of a lawsuit is a step too far. Our courts are filled with enough frivolous lawsuits, and they do not need more. How many visits are enough? How often must one “send regards”? What would be the proper remedy in a civil suit? What if one had terrible parents? What if those parents squandered all of their money? The intentions may be good, but the new law sounds overbroad without more clarification.
    I would be extremely surprised if the United States adopts a similar law. Our sense of individualism is too strong. Although the government does promote family structures, one is generally not responsible for those family members outside of marriage, child-rearing, adoption, or some kind of legal guardianship. Unlike with children, both parties would be adults who are capable of making their own decisions.

  2. I agree with Song Xiaoguang that this seems to be a moral, not legal question. This is also an extremely contentious issue, as unfortunately many children do not want to take the time to care for their aging parents.

    In addition, I also think that the section from the “Law on Protection of the Rights and Interests of Elderly People,” which states: “family members who live apart from their parents should often visit or send regards to their parents” is overly broad and ambiguous, and does not account for the various exceptions. As someone who is very close to their family, I believe that this is a law that could help guide some people’s moral compasses in the right direction, as I believe that children have a moral duty to take care of their parents who have taken care of them. Now that this has become a legal duty, it is interesting to think how elderly parents abandoned by their children can now sue for neglect.

    In addition, I wonder how the law accounts for the many harsh realities that young people face such as financial struggles, parental child abuse, and parental abandonment, (to name a few), but as Song stated: “Sometimes a call is enough, as young people have their own difficulties.”

    This law is also an interesting approach that the Chinese government is taking in response to the ever-increasing elderly population in China. I cannot help but wonder if this law is truly out of China’s strong value on kinship, and stems out of issues of parental mistreatment and neglect, or if it is out of the government’s concern over the costs of caring for China’s growing elder population?

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