A social security revolution in Guangxi
Tens of thousands of senior rural women who enjoy the "five guarantees" (5G), a kind of social well-being provided by the government, have been resettled in welfare "five guarantees" villages in South China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.
The "five guarantees household" (Wu Bao Hu), a traditional social security term most Chinese aged people are familiar with, means the elderly people without children or who have been widowed enjoy the five guarantees of food, clothing, medical care, housing and a free burial.
A "five-guarantee village" is not exactly a rural village. However, it is a special kind of community in a normal village where all of the senior people are looked after.
It, accordingly, is known as "a village within a village".
The structure of the "village" is like a quadrangle, with each accommodating 10 to 20 "five-guarantee" elderly women.
Unlike traditional areas for seniors, this emerging new village is actually a novel community where the residents do not have to live in a crowded dormitory, nor dine together.
They each have a kitchen and single living room.
In addition, there is a public recreation room, toilets, water facilities and pigsties inside the courtyard, making their life more convenient.
This practice has upgraded the quality of living for aged women in Guangxi, and fuelled the implementation of the autonomous government's Programme for the Development of Women.
Over the past year, such communities have been established in almost every village and township in the region, even in the most remote areas.
At present, more than 30,000 rural seniors, of which elderly women comprise more than one-third of the total, are living in Guangxi's 2,080 5G communities.
Most settlers are delighted with the innovative practice. As one villager said, the communities have greatly improved the living conditions of those who do not have children or have lost a husband or wife.
In the past, about 2,000 out of Guangxi's tens of thousands of 5G people lived in the 701 township homes for the elderly.
In contrast, a hefty majority of them still resided in shabby cottages scattered around the countryside, living a lonely existence.
In a bid to push the State's Programme for the Development of Chinese Women forward, Guangxi mapped out a 10-year programme for the development of women in 2001, setting up a variety of social welfare institutions and seniors' homes to provide them with better services.
A total of 1,124 social welfare organizations are expected to be established by 2010.
Supporting the 5G elderly women has long been a top concern for the civil administration organs and the Office of the Working Committee for Women and Children in Guangxi.
However, solely depending on government allocation to fund the homes for elderly people - a long established practice- was far from sufficient.
It was not until 2001 when a flood hit Tunxian village in Qinnan District, in Guangxi's Qinzhou city, that the novel idea of 5G villages were exposed - during the disaster, more than 10 5G households' houses were decimated.
To save money and increase the effectiveness of management, the Bureau of Civil Affairs in Qinnan District appropriated a plot of land for intensive settlement of the households.
This pioneering initiative enlightened local authorities, who had made several investigations in the area that was earmarked for rebuilding.
As a result of the success of 5G villages, bunches of them have sprung up all over Guangxi.
How come so many welfare villages have been established in such a short period of time?
"The secret to the success of the 5G villages lies in the socialization of social welfare," said Zhang Tingdeng, head of the Bureau of Civil Affairs of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.
"It means that from the very beginning, they diversified the capital resource from society."
The 5G villages are built in line with local conditions, and the life of each occupant becomes more convenient.
"These characteristics have greatly lowered costs in terms of the construction and management of the villages," said Xiao Fangzuo, deputy-head of the bureau.
"More importantly, this practice is to the advantage of these elderly women both physically and mentally.
"It is also in accordance with the current as well as long-term productivity development."
Building such a welfare community that can hold 10 households only costs 50,000 to 70,000 yuan (US$6,046-8,464), roughly accounting for one-fourth of a township-level senior person's home.
In addition, the village, as public property, can manage to support in a continuous way, Xiao stressed.
In the past, the construction of a social welfare organization exclusively depended on lump-sum donations, whereas the construction of 5G villages is jointly funded by the autonomous government, county-based companies, village committees and other social organizations.
It is apparent that from the very start of a 5G village, social forces play a crucial role.
According to the Office of the Working Committee for Women and Children in Guangxi, a sound working mechanism to improve 5G villages has been established between relevant authorities and organizations, such as the departments of civil affairs, finance, land and resources, social security, water resources, communications and public health.
A small sum of advance government capital has brought about a large amount of social investment in this particular undertaking, with 5G villages mushrooming up around the Guangxi countryside in a short period of time.
A happy paradise
For most of the elderly women, the villages are undoubtedly a happy paradise.
Currently, 29 5G elderly people, of which 21 are female, live in the welfare village in the suburb of Nanning, capital city of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.
A local cadre says the village may be the best residence that the aged people have ever lived in throughout their life.
"I will not live in a shabby cottage any longer," one resident said.
"Old as I am, I can still do some work I'm capable of doing here."
And if they get ill, instant help and care is extended from their relatives and the village committee.
In addition to the comfortable houses and warm care, they are also given some allowances regularly by the local civil affairs organizations.
To date, more than 2,000 welfare villages have been established and significantly improved the life of the rural elderly.
Their living conditions have surpassed what they could expect.
A local government source said the 5G villages are expected to number 5,000 in Guangxi in the next two years.
They will be home to 70,000 rural 5G elderly women.
(China Daily 01/28/2005 page5)