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Business booms in China's gray market
( 2003-12-28 16:52) (Xinhua)

Confucius taught the Chinese to stay by the beds of their aging parents for sake of filial piety, but today's elderly are turning to public and private organizations when their children are unable to care for them.

Bo Guobin, 86, is one of them. A widower for over ten years, the retired government official moved into a senior citizens home in Chongqing Municipality last year.

The move sparked gossip among relatives and neighbors on his family relations, but he quickly quashed the rumors by inviting them to see his new home.

"I enjoy the fresh air and companionship of other elderly people," Bo said. It's cheaper to live here than in the town. My family can visit me on holidays."

In the past, sending parents to an old folks home was regarded as abandonment and moral degeneration

China has 130 million people over 60 years old, about 10 percent of the country's population, according to statistics from the Ministry of Labor and Social Security. They have created a market for a booming private enterprise sector.

For example, senior citizens homes in Chongqing can accommodate 8,000 pensioners, but over 50,000 citizens want to live in such institutions, according to a recent survey by Chongqing municipal civil affairs department.

"The industry is promising because most Chinese families have only one child and it's difficult for a single person to support two parents nowadays," said Liu Changyuan, a peasant-turned- businessman, who set up a senior citizens home with 500,000 yuan ( 60,240 US dollars) four years ago in Chongqing.

Liu's three-story building has 60 beds and each resident is charged 300 yuan (36 dollars) a month to live a catered life at the foot of scenic Gele Mountain.

The industry is very profitable, said Liu, who plans to expand his business this year.

"Elderly people have been moving into our institutions at an average growth rate of 15 percent each year. Most are civil servants or professors who have pensions," said Gao Shunzhong, director of Shapingba Welfare Institution in Chongqing.

Pension insurance is the main income allowing the elderly to afford life in senior citizens homes, said Yang Tuan, a researcher with Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS).
However, only 2.8 percent of rural elderly people can obtain pension, while the figure is 65 percent in cities, according to the fifth national demographic survey in 2000.
As China upgrades its pension insurance system, more rural elderly people will be able to afford living in senior citizens homes and relieve their children's burdens, Yang said.
Combining tradition with modernization, more Chinese are seeking community help to support their frail parents, Yang added.

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