China has introduced a new law ordering children to visit their elderly relatives. Recently a 77-year-old woman in Southern China became the first person to sue her child under the country’s newly amended law on protecting the elderly, and the court ruled in her favour. Her daughter must now visit her at least every two months or face fines.
What a thoughtless, antiquated law. Yes, in an ideal world a quick bit of legislation could fix lifelong estrangement and resentment between family members but in reality many children have very, very good reasons for not seeing their parents. There are people who took decades to able to escape from their abusive mothers or fathers. Every family functions in a different way and to expect one cover-all law to work for an entire (gigantic) nation is laughable at best and negligible at worst.
Of course, the issue is always more complicated than it seems. One eighth of the Chinese population is aged 60 or over and this issue has been exasperated by China’s One Child Policy and a rapidly urbanising population.
My knowledge of Chinese culture is microscopic and to call it microscopic is an insult to microscopes and, of course, to China. I have spent a total of three weeks of my life there when touring with a choir when I was sixteen and if you didn’t know anything about modern Chinese history at the start of the tour, you wouldn’t have left any better informed. At Tienanmen Square our guide told us ‘this is Tienanmen Square. Chairman Mao is buried there. Meet you back here in half.’ No word of tanks or protests or one of the most iconic images of our century. A couple of us were able to speak to her in hushed voices one day and she told us that her contract stated there was a lot she couldn’t talk about regarding modern China. Ancient Massacres? Fine. Dynasties and warlords and the manufacturing of silk? Fine. In the final week of the tour, one of my classmates asked me ‘Fleur, is Communism bad?’ I believe my answer was a rambling one about spectrums of the left and right and how a left-wing dictatorship looks remarkably similar to a right-wing one and how inadequate words like ‘bad’ are in the face of such complex ideologies. But I digress. I tell you this only by way of explaining how incomprehensible Chinese culture can be to an outsider.
What is apparent is that the pace of change in China is dizzying and that it is creating some very complex social issues. Aged-care is one of them. There are very few affordable aged-care facilities in the country, hence the Government panicking and hoping that ‘visit your parents or else’ will solve their problems.
I am fortunate to be from an incredibly happy family. I speak to my parents daily and cared for my grandmother until her death last year but this does not mean that I expect all families to be able to function in this way. Families are complicated. Aging is complicated. Caring is so, so hard.