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Better off senior citizens want spiritual support from children
( 2003-12-13 11:04) (Xinhua)

Though most young Chinese still carry on the centuries-old tradition of filial piety by buying expensive gifts and offering large sums of pocket money to their parents, their elders often complain that that's not all they need.

Money alone does not bring happiness, and many senior citizens agree money is not that important when you are getting old.

In a relatively affluent society, the elderly have less financial worries. An official survey by China Gerontology Research Center shows senior citizens in China's urban and rural areas had an annual income of 8,496 yuan (US$1,024 ) and 2, 232 yuan (US$270 ) respectively at the end of 2000 - enough to cover most of their daily expenses.

The elderly are therefore seeking a more colorful cultural life, says Prof. Wu Cangping with the People's University at a recent forum on piety and harmony between generations, held in Jinan, capital of Shandong Province.

The forum has drawn over 300 delegates from around the world, bringing to the table the traditional concept of filial piety, which is central to China's long-standing civilization.

"For many senior citizens, entertainment activities, gym, mountain climbing and traveling have become an important part of their retirement," said Prof. Wu.

But for most elderly people, nothing is as valuable and important as the love and concern from their children, says Tai Enpu, a specialist on gerontological studies.

"Lack of contact with the outside world, loneliness and depression have caused an increasing number of senior citizens to suffer from mental problems these days," said Tai. "Most elderly just want their children to spend more time with them. All they need is love and care."

But an unofficial survey shows about 70 per cent of China's urban youths are not even spending weekends with their parents.

"Most senior citizens say they need more spiritual, rather than material, support from their children," said Tai. "Because they cannot help feeling lonely and miserable when there are fewer people around and less things to keep them occupied."

In traditional Chinese culture, children, no matter how grown up they might be, were not supposed to leave their hometown when their parents were still alive, lest their elders feel lonely or worry about their children's well-being.

Today, however, more elderly people have to choose not to live with their children.

Incomplete figures show 37.3 per cent of the senior citizens in Chinese cities are living on their own. Even in the countryside, where most older people are financially dependent on their children, the figure is as high as 33 per cent.

The trend has given birth to a large number of "empty nesters" - - senior citizens without their children around.

China has at least 23.4 million such "empty nesters" and the number is still growing, statistics suggest.

"Children have an irreplaceable role to play in consoling the empty nesters and keeping them company," said Chu Qingguan, an official with the Shandong Provincial Committee on Aging. " Personal visits over weekends and phone calls on the busy weekdays are more important than money or gifts."

In 2002, senior citizens over 60 years of age added up to nearly 630 million in the world, about 10 per cent of its entire population.

China is also moving towards a graying society with 132 million elderly, a figure experts say will keep growing at 3.32 per cent annually to make up a quarter of its population by 2050.

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