China eyes filial piety to help elderly

By Ben Blanchard BEIJING, Reuters

China should bring back and promote the concept of filial piety to help deal with its aging population, making sure more old people are cared for at home by family members, a senior government adviser said on Saturday.

China is already home to more than half of the old people in Asia, and by 2050 the number of those over 60 will exceed 400 million, accounting for more than 30 percent of the population.

China’s pension system does not cover rural areas and the system in place is underfunded and scandal-ridden — a serious problem for a country whose working population is expected to peak in 2010 and whose ratio of workers to retirees is three to one, compared to 10 to one in 1990.

“We must incorporate looking after the aged at home into the social security system and raise this to new standards,” said Yang Kuifu, vice-chairman of the population committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.

“This is our traditional way of looking after the old, and it has advantages,” Yang told a news conference on the sidelines of China’s annual meeting of parliament.

“So we should promote a pure filial piety culture, and enhance the Chinese people’s traditional virtues of respecting and looking after the old,” said Yang, a member of the largely ceremonial body which has no legislative powers.

“We must especially teach the young to respect their parents,” added Yang, a former vice-minister of the State Family Planning Commission.

Parents and the older generation traditionally had high status in Confucian Chinese society, and would have been looked after at home by often large extended families.

But in rapidly developing modern China, where strict family planning policies mean couples can normally have just one child, that tradition is fading, Yang warned.

“In modern society, the phenomenon of paying much attention to the young and not much to the old is very common,” said Yang, speaking in the Great Hall of the People.

“Surveys show that some children have little feeling towards their parents, and some older people even face maltreatment,” he added.

Yang suggested people be asked to sign pledges, promising to look after their parents in old age.

The government says China is in the unenviable and unique position of aging before it becomes affluent, but it is trying to tackle the problem and believes the next 25 years are crucial.