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 it from USA. Enjoy it and share it with your friends. steve, usa, december 16, 2018 blog – https://getting2knowyou-china.com
– 74 –
I believe I have another clue to this dilemma. The enlightenment came from watching a documentary series about migrant workers in China. While watching this documentary—repeated countless times by CCTV NEWS—I did learn many facts about who they are, why they left their homes in many remote villages and small towns in less developed regions in western and southcentral China to work in big prosperous and progressive eastern coastal cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen. Slaving away on the types of work no urbanites would care to do, like many white Americans I know in America who disdain working in farms or other blue collar work they feel is below their dignity or earning power.
Many of these young people left their parents in remote areas in China in late 70s and early 80s when big cosmopolitan cities open their doors to thousands and thousands of migrant workers—many in their teens—because of sudden economic opportunities made possible by Deng Xiaoping’s economic policies. After all these years, many will not return home for reasons intimate and known to them only. But a few spoke clearly in the documentary.
“I was hoping to make a good living when I left my parents. But things did not work out for me and my family. We are not paid well because our bosses do not care for us. Because we do not have skills or education, and so they often bully us and take advantage of us. At times we would have to fight to get paid. And if we refuse to work, they can always find more workers who are willing to work for them. And so we often keep quiet and are grateful for the jobs. The biggest problem is we do not have the skills to do better jobs elsewhere. And so we are stuck here. And every holiday we do not have the money to go home to see our parents. We are not doing well ourselves. We cannot afford the time or the money to travel. That is one reason why many of us do not see our parents anymore. I wish life would be better for us.”
The story is loud and clear why many of these young migrant workers will not be home soon or ever. And we will continue to hear, “We have no idea where our kids are. They have not returned home since they left us when they were very young. We do not have their phone numbers and they do not call us. If we die, they would never know.” I am too familiar with this voice of forgotten and neglected parents in many remote areas in China.
Yes, if you live in the United States, if you are a senior citizen, insane, crippled, uncared for by the society, childless, penniless, and unable to take care of yourself,
– 75 –
very likely the government will take of you.
The picture in China is complex and complicated.
Tom is about to graduate soon. He failed his postgraduate exam to study in a better university. He announced that his parents had bought him an apartment in Nanchang, capital of Jiangxi Province, where Tom is about to finish his college education. However, he did manage to go for an interview for a job in Hangzhou, capital city of Zhejiang Province, once an ancient capital of China. “I passed everything, both the written and the oral,” he sounded elated when he talked to me. “But my parents did not want me to go to work there, so I will stay close to Nanchang because of the apartment,” he said. “My parents do not want me to work too far away.”
Austin told me almost a similar story. “My grandma and my mother insisted I must move back to Shantou, Guangdong Province. I love my job teaching here at New Oriental in Xiamen City but I have no choice. I have to move home to be close to them. You know my dad left my mom years ago.” He did and he now lives in Shantou but still continues his teaching at another English language school.
It seems obvious to me the 2013 Elderly Rights Law targeted the young adults who left home in the late 70s and 80s (after the Cultural Revolution) especially those with very little education or skills and because of that many of their lives had not improved substantially to afford time or money or leisure to visit their aging parents. Many in fact, according to reports, worried about “losing face” (MianZi) because their lives had not improved as they had expected when they left homes decades ago. The children born in the late 80s and 90s are of a different breed because most of their parents have new wealth and able to give their children the best in everything, with plenty of spending money to throw away as if they own the banks.
I see distinctly four groups of senior citizens in modern China: those in remote areas where many of their migrant children have forgotten them; those whose only child has died because of various reasons or causes, now left without anyone to care for them; those who are childless or chose to be childless; and the emerging new group whose children, some still in colleges, others are young professionals—those born in more recent times—who are too busy chasing after their dreams to spend time with their aging parents, but at least they continue to support them by sending them money often. The last group is relatively rich and many are reported to continue to support financially their adult children and are definitely more mobile compared with the first three groups of the elderly in China.
– 76 –
I met an incredible senior citizen in Quanzhou, Fujian Province, who is given the keys to all the fabulous homes of his children and he enjoys the privilege of going from house to house to eat with them or stay with them as he wishes without having to ask for their permission. That is a unique privilege not for all senior citizens in China, to visit his adult children and grandchildren as he pleases.
I believe the biggest concern is for the first group of senior citizens who are obviously ignored and neglected by their adult children, who continue to struggle for subsistence living in urban China. I believe here is a feasible solution. In an article for China Daily (March 9, 2015) lecturer Liu Yanwu, in the Department of Sociology at Wuhan University, has some interesting ideas to deal with the rural elderly, those 70 or older neglected by their adult children. “Legal assistance is also required to protect the rights and interests of elderly people,” he writes, “so they can seek legal protection instead of ending their lives should they suffer from unjust treatment meted out to them by unfilial children. Such being the case, local judicial organs should take more active measures to intervene in disputes over filial support, and in particular, provide better legal assistance and support for the elderly.”
And he also has a very pragmatic solution to the elderly crisis. He believes “a new type of home-based care system may serve as a life-saver for those aged in the countryside in need of daily attendance. A host of Chinese farmers aged between 45 and 65, who are unable to find an urban job because of their age, can be trained to be care-givers. The government should provide funds to subsidize the care system.” And he suggests senior citizens, especially those with disabilities or infirmities whose children are migrant workers in distant cities, should be able to “purchase such services at a reasonable cost” with help from the local and central government.
I received an interesting article from a friend in Singapore, dated September 25, 2011, written by Lau Guan Kim. And this is a quote from his lament about growing old in Singapore.
“Growing old can be humiliating, especially if you have no savings. Old people are neglected, and many are rejected. Being old is not an option for many; quite a fair section wish for an early death. If sick, the old prefer euthanasia rather than being neglected. The old have raised their children, but many are not being cared for. Children who behaved thus to their old parents need to see the danger their own children are watching and will do the same to them. Confucian ethics of filial piety is gone with modernization.”
In the 1990s Singapore was faced with the elderly crisis because young people did not
– 77 –
want to stay with their elderly parents, creating a sense of loss and isolation. Soon the Health Ministry started to promote social activities to address the issue of isolation, to reconnect the elderly with their communities. Something like the Branson senior community center I was involved with years ago and this could be replicated in remote communities in China. During one summer holiday, David and I got lucky to work with a community to “build” a senior center. Many northerners would spend their summers in this community and gradually they started building their homes away from homes. The Branson community hired David and I to survey this community to see if they would support a community center, focusing on activities that would attract the new outsiders to Branson. We took over an old abandoned church and converted it into an activity center. Needless to say it was a success…a place for many senior citizens to come and have a good time…with many different activities to allow them to use and develop their many hidden talents. That was the Branson senior community center and I believe this concept is applicable anywhere in China. If there is a will, there is a way, as many of my college students would often say to me.
I honestly believe we could build many activity centers for seniors in China. We simply need more people who care and who would volunteer their time to enrich the lives of many senior citizens in China, who feel neglected by their adult children. The era of TACT is here and I believe all of us have the ability to do the right thing for our parents, without whom we would not be here in the first place.