17th National Congress of the Communist Party of China

Graying China

Eight-month-old Jianjian sits happily in his baby carriage in the Qingnian Road Residential Subdistrict square of Chaoyang District, Beijing. As his father pushes him, Jianjian’s mother walks by his side and keeps him amused, while his grandmother, bearing the baby’s day-out survival kit of feeding bottle, disposable diapers and moist tissues, brings up the rear.

“Jianjian, you should grow up as soon as possible, so that you can make enough money to support your mother, father and maternal grandparents,” coos Zhai Yushu, the baby’s mother, as she glances back at her mother. “And also your paternal grandparents,” chimes in Jianjian’s father.

This is a frequent behest of Jianjian, still blissfully unaware of the pressure and expectations that lie ahead. “When I was a child, my mother would say the same to me. But as my father had several siblings who could help support my grandparents in their old age, I was spared this burden,” explains Zhai Yushu. As the sole offspring of their respective families, Zhai and her husband are responsible for the future welfare of both pairs of parent.

Since implementation of the Chinese government’s “one child per couple” policy, people of the new generation face ever-greater pressure to support the elderly. At present, there are about 150 million elderly above the age of 60 in China, making up 11 percent of the total population. In other words, there is one senior over the age of 60 among every ten people.

China has entered the aging society earlier than expected.

Supporting the elderly is a common problem among nations, and knotty to boot, particularly to developing countries such as China. One elderly person currently has the support of seven to eight working people, according to demographic estimates. But by 2040, the average senior will have to manage with the support of just two working people.

More retirement homes have been established in anticipation of this eventuality. Since the majority of seniors expect, in line with traditional Chinese concepts, to live with, or close to, their family members, however, most of these institutions face financial difficulties owing to lack of patrons.

Demographers, however, point out that professional institutions for old-age care are the only solution to the onerous burden of elderly support that currently awaits the sibling-less generation born since the 1970s. Much non-governmental and foreign capital is now earmarked to secure the vast economic opportunities offered by this huge market.



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