PERSONAL NOTE: I decided to share my book with many friends and students in mainland China because the book is not available in mainland China. It costs too much to order a copy from USA. Enjoy it and share it with your friends. steve, usa, celebrating december 15, 2018 firstname.lastname@example.org blog – https://getting2knowyou-china.com
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Old people. Old people. What? Would you please stop it? Stop calling old people old people? I guess it is my fault to be a sensitive American…In USA, calling someone old people is a form of discrimination. To my real surprise and dismay, it is not a big deal for many—almost all—of my students to call their parents or grandparents old people and I, like a crusader for correct morality or Western morality, would stop at every occurrence or opportunity when I hear “old people” to teach them to use “senior citizens” as a sign of respect for the aged and elderly in the Chinese society. Or should I care? So when I first read an article by Celia Hatton of BBC News, “New China law says children ‘must visit parents” (July 1, 2013) I was taken aback by the new Elderly Rights Law. In China? China is the birthplace of the traditional belief and practice in filial piety. You have to be kidding, right? What happened to filial piety for our parents? New to China myself, I must admit the question of how to deal with aging parents has become a hot potato because China—like Korea, Japan and Singapore—is going gray and the social and mass media carried horror stories of neglected senior citizens or how cruelly some were treated by their adult children.
In 2010, according to government statistics, more than 178 millions people in China were 60 years or older and by 2030 they expect that number to double.
The Elderly Rights Law is about how the Chinese government is trying to tell the Chinese young adults to do the right thing for their many neglected or forgotten parents, like visiting or calling them often wherever they might be in some faraway nooks and niches in China. Take care of their spiritual needs and do not snub the elderly, so they were told. Many web users thought this was ridiculous. So unreasonable. I am a busy man and I don’t have time for my parents. They said. So what if a person refuses to follow the new law? Zhang Yan Feng, a lawyer with Beijing’s King & Capital Law Firm, has this to say to doubters and skeptics and those who might refuse to comply with the new elderly law. “It’s hard to put this law into practice,” he agreed, “but not impossible.” He continued, “If a case is brought to court on the basis of this law, I think it’ll probably end up in a peaceful settlement. But if no settlement is reached, technically speaking, court rulings can force the person to visit home certain times a month.” And “If this person disobeys court rulings he could be fine or detained.”
The American inside me saw this new law differently from many others. In the past, imperial rulers or emperors, both in China and Japan, were believed to receive their mandate from heaven to rule. And down the centuries, like the Pope in the Catholic
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Church in Vatican City in Italy, their words and commands were infallible because they represented heaven on earth, as if speaking the voice of heaven to us. They were the intermediary between the heaven and us the common people. In good times and bad times they would speak to the heaven on behalf of humanity. With the passage of time, our leaders proved to be human and I would hear this Latin phrase over and over in my head since I learned it in high school: errare est humanum, to err is human. This awareness caused the people to question their authority and rule. Some just, some unjust. The divine voice from heaven seemed to have faded. After the surrender of Japan, Emperor Hirohito (1926-1989), father of present Emperor Akihito, spoke to his people for the first time, not as a divine ruler. The days when top government officials would issue mandates and make and interpret laws arbitrarily or at will are about over. And now many centuries later, for the first time in the history of the Communist Party of China (CPC), the Fourth Plenary Session of the 18th Central Committee of the CPC met in Beijing on October 20-23, 2014 to focus on and promote the rule of law, not from the top down but from the bottom up, allowing the masses to help shape and formulate the rule of law that would be just and fair to all in this country…we all are equal before the law. The era of the rule of law has dawned. The new president Mr. Xi wants everyone in China to do the right thing from now on (also embodied in his idea of the China Dream) and the rule of law will assist in that process. The era of TACT has begun.
Time and time again, China has told the United States to back off when it comes to the matter of human rights. To me as an American, the Elderly Rights Law is a minute aspect of human rights here or anywhere else in the world.
The Chinese inside me believed China is doing the right thing for the elderly. But I am not that optimistic that all social ills can be solved by legislation. Is legislation the panacea for all our social injustices and wrongs in our modern society radically altered because of mobility, rapid economic expansion and urbanization? When our modern apartments are too expensive and too small to house two or three generations of families and many migrant workers have to leave their parents and loved ones behind in some distant remote villages and, thus, many will never return to take care of their elderly parents? If legislation is the cure, China would be a utopian society today.
The picture in China is complex and complicated.
The real question is: Why are we having this problem with the elderly in China? Most of us do not realize that under Chairman Mao this would never happen. Poverty as we see it in modern post-Mao China did not exist then. Now we see beggars—males and
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females—in many cities in modern China. Many of us might not realize that when Chairman Mao was in control, nobody, I mean nobody, was allowed to travel or go anywhere without the permission of the government, local, state and national.
Bicycles were everywhere in Beijing in the early 1980s. No cars. No speed trains. No airlines flying east, west, north, south and to many parts of the world. And when you did travel, you were required to report or register at the place you visited. It was said it was during this period of Chinese history under communism, many uneducated young men from remote areas in China would join the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) to get away from the boredom and doldrums of country living. Joining the PLA meant a chance to travel and see China. It was also said these soldiers confronted the thousands of students during the 1989 Tiananmen uprising and were sympathetic to their cause because of who they were—soldiers who originally came from poor farming areas in China.
Chairman Mao was definitely responsible for creating a whole generation of anti-intellectuals, and many of those born in the late 50s, 60s and 70s never did attend schools because most schools were not in operation. Many young men and women became Mao’s Red Guards; many teachers and professors were banished to the countryside for re-education. Suddenly after Mao’s death in 1976 and Deng Xiaoping opened up China, and when entrepreneurs started factories and businesses everywhere in China, thousands and thousands without education or skills left the country-sides looking for jobs, any jobs, and grateful for employment. And so the bosses or these new breed of unscrupulous businessmen started to exploit the simple migrants, taking advantage of their willingness to work for a meager sum of money, living in crowded dormitories, and who were simply thankful to find jobs in factories that would later take the lives of many because of unhealthy work environments. And many of these migrant workers who left their farm houses and remote country villages are not doing well financially and economically and many of them now are not going home to see their aging parents.
The picture in China is complex and complicated.
I once heard a senior citizen in Shanghai telling a TV reporter that, “I am not complaining. I understand why my son cannot visit me. He is busy with his business and his own family. And he lives far away from me now. But I am happy he sends me money to support me every month. My life is good. Honestly speaking, I do not expect to see him or his family anytime soon. I learn to accept it.” She wore a slight smile on her face. I did not doubt her honesty and sincerity. But is she telling everything? That is my question.
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What are your plans for the coming Guoqing holidays? I would ask my English major students every year without fail. I asked my students in the class to share their thoughts and plans for the holidays. Most students would open their mouths if you asked them a question. I want to share one particular conversation I had with one female student, albeit a disturbing one to me.
“So you are planning to go home?” I said.
“Yes. But not what you think,” She said.
“What do you mean?”
“My home is my grandparents. That is where I want to spend my holidays.”
“Why your grandparents? You mean you will see your grandparents first?”
“Not exactly. My home is my grandparents. I live with my grandparents since I was a little baby. My parents were too busy for me. So they sent me to my grandparents.”
“Paternal or maternal,” I asked.
“Paternal, of course.”
“So you are going home to your grandparents and not your parents. Did something happen while you were growing up?” I knew I was invading her privacy by asking her so many questions. But as an American teacher I am used to talking openly with my students. They do not have to answer any of my questions if they feel uncomfortable. She continued. “I just don’t care for my parents. That is all,” she said with very little emotion.
Nobody in the class seemed curious about what she said and that utterly made no sense to me. She sat at the last row in class, and no one attempted to turn their heads to see where the voice was coming from.
In America, it is not uncommon to see some black grandparents taking care of their grandchildren because some of their adult children are either in jail because of drugs or other crimes, or dead by gunshot wounds, and others simply vanished into thin air.
The longer I live and work with college students, the less I am surprised about what is happening in China today. Americans, like me, will never understand why Chinese
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grandparents continue to play a role in the lives of many young people, in the past and in the present. And they continue to do so. Almost anywhere you go, you cannot miss seeing grandfathers carrying the little ones on their bicycles, whether shopping or going to the parks or simply enjoying an evening ride. Almost anywhere you go, you cannot miss grandparents taking care of their beloved grandchildren, pushing the prams in the streets or in the quiet playgrounds. I see them daily outside my apartment near the campus, babies in baby carriages, going somewhere. Not so in the West, in a country like America. Many grandparents are enjoying life elsewhere. They had done their job long ago and now it is their turn, the young adults, to look after their babies.
Carlos took me home once to see his grandparents up in a mountain in Putian City, Fujian Province. We had arrived in town late in the evening but lucky to find a taxi who was willing to drive us up a steep mountain. He knew the winding road well but all the time I did not feel safe with his fast expert maneuvering, at times with his speed the car could easily have fallen off the sharp turns or missed the narrow curves. It was dark and chilly as we neared the top. It was like a narrow escape, a dangerous mountain trip. I fell in love with the old house, up in a serene mountain with cool crisp air and beautiful scenery and some empty dilapidated houses around. They had added a modern shower and toilet to the old structure. I was happy to see a Western toilet, not the traditional one where you had to squat. Inside a room upstairs, Carlos opened an old wooden cupboard filled with things that belonged to him. “These are my little shoes,” he said. “Here are the books I used when I was in primary school.” It was like a museum about his upbringing, living with his grandparents. And so every holiday when Carlos was in college, he would spend his time with his grandparents, not his parents.
Warren returned to his grandparents in Guanxi Province, close to Vietnam. “My grandpa would always go to a local market and buy meat for me to eat when I return home during the holidays. Grandma and grandpa raise their own vegetables, chickens and some pigs. They seldom go to the market or grocery store to buy anything. But every time I am home during the holidays, they would go and buy me some meat to eat. The neighbors always tell me about this, that my grandparents would make this special trip to the meat market because I am home for the holidays,” Warren shared this story with me many times.
He did a video of the family pet dog and cat. Warren told me the pet dog gave birth to about five puppies.
“What did grandma do with all the puppies? It costs money to feed them,” I said.
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“They did not want to give them away. They want to keep all of them.”
“You must be kidding,” I said.
“Grandma said they would slaughter them for meat when they are older,” he said, matter-of-factly. To him, this was normal in that part of China.
I guess I would do the same if I was poor, too.
So who are these young adults that the Chinese government is targeting? The picture is not what it seems.
The picture in China is complex and complicated.
This is China.