Views on filial piety see change
As the country's economy gallops along, urban Chinese are less likely to cherish the traditional notion of filial piety.
Instead, they are prone to take the Western approach to a welfare society, according to a three-year, seven-city survey conducted by the City University of Hong Kong.
As many as 95 per cent of the respondents expect the government to take up responsibility for supporting the elderly; and 87 per cent agree with the idea that the burden should fall on society as a whole rather than individual families.
Alex Kwan, who took charge of the study, deplores the eroding of traditional intergenerational bonds. Improving living standards are obviously a major factor, he says, because the survey found cities on the economic leading edge like Shanghai, Guangzhou and Hong Kong lag behind in ethics education and filial piety.
On the contrary, cities like Beijing and Nanjing, where families are more closely knit, ranked higher in terms of filial loyalty, says the professor of the department of applied social studies.
While most people still "respect" their parents and grandparents, they tend to equate economic assistance with love. "When asked how they would show their love for their old folks, many simply said they would send their parents to old homes. Others said they would give money. But supporting your parents is not the same as raising pets. You have to have the right attitude," says Kwan.
His research found that Hongkongers are more ready to provide means for their parents. But across the board, only 2 per cent of the sampled urbanites said they would be ready to "take care of the psychological health of their parents."
A nationwide poll in 2000 found that heads of households of 20 per cent of the 340 million families in China were 65 or older. Of this number, 22.83 per cent were empty-nesters. This put the total number of empty-nesters aged 65 or over at 23.4 million.
The over-65ers in China's cities comprise empty-nesters at over 30 per cent, and they will go up to 80 per cent by 2010, predict some experts. And they will need love and care from their children more than ever.
Professor Kwan says the ageing of the population and changing attitudes towards marriage are among factors, other than economic growth, that have come into play. Many young people prefer not to have kids or cohabitate without marriage, therefore it is hard for them to understand how the older generations feel, Kwan observes.
Education on virtues sorely needed
Kwan says the ageing of the population and changing attitudes towards marriage are among factors, other than economic growth, that have come into play.
Many young people prefer not to have children or cohabitate without marriage, therefore it is hard for them to understand how the older generations feel, Kwan observes.
Not surprisingly, the middle-aged, who have children of their own, take their filial duties more seriously. Another group that stood out in the study is married women. "Women know better than men the need for this kind of loving care. As a group, married women would outlive their husbands by 10 years," says Kwan.
Kwan questions the wisdom of importing the Western concept of government welfare. "A welfare society is founded on high tax rates, but here in Hong Kong the personal tax rate is only 15 per cent. How can you expect the government to take care of all the elderly?" he asks.
Kwan is saddened that young people nowadays take the traditional value of filial piety so lightly. "We should certainly learn from the West, but it is of equal importance that we retain virtues of our own. Caring for one's parents is one of them," he says.
The young generation is the weakest link and needs special awareness programmes to develop their sense of filial piety. "We should not only take children to zoos and parks, but also to old homes and let them know how old people live. They should start this kind of education earlier in their lives, not when they're into high school," Kwan suggests.
Even when a social security network can support all senior citizens, it cannot replace the love that only a family member can give, he insists.