The elderly of China’s earthquake devastated region may turn out to be the biggest losers of the disaster as their surviving children, often already working far away, concentrate on rebuilding their own lives or continue to focus on their own families and jobs. Nearly 32,000 elderly Chinese lost their relatives in the May 12 quake, according to official estimates. That compares with 8000 orphaned children, most of whom have now been reunited with relatives. Confucianism is strong on reverence for age, but three decades of the one-child policy and aggressive economic modernisation in China have altered, if not weakened, family bonds and the population is becoming top-heavy with older people.
“The whole cultural tradition of Confucianism is being hit by an old-age tsunami,” says demographer Nicholas Eberstadt. “It was easy enough to imagine filial piety and veneration of older people when they were a scarce commodity, but they’re becoming really plentiful, and in the eyes of many, perhaps even a burden.” There are more than 100 million Chinese over 65 today, a number that will approach a quarter of a billion by 2030, says Eberstadt. Also, the number of women with no sons, now about 10 to 15 per cent of the population, is expected to grow to 30 per cent by 2025. “China is going to be the poorest old society we’ve ever seen,” Eberstadt said.
Provincial and central government officials have promised that all elderly left homeless by the quake will be given food and shelter. Many have been moved to nearby rest homes. And officials say they plan to build more old-age homes over the next two years in Sichuan. Perhaps some of the elderly “orphans” would prefer to be adopted by a family, but one official says that, while the adoption hotline rang day and night after the disaster, his office only had one call asking about adopting an older person. ~ Washington Post, June 3