China's Revolutions and Intergenerational Relations

By Shea, Jeanne L. | The China Journal, July 2004 | Go to article overview

China's Revolutions and Intergenerational Relations


Shea, Jeanne L., The China Journal


China's Revolutions and Intergenerational Relations, edited by Martin King Whyte. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2003. xvi + 319 pp. US$60.00/£37.50 (hardcover).

This edited book is an important landmark in studies of aging, the family and intergenerational relations in China. It presents survey data from urban China and urban Taiwan to show "how relations between aging parents and their grown children were affected by China's multiple twentieth-century revolutions" (p. xi). Presenting this data in an historical and sociocultural context, the book provides valuable insights into how, in the face of decades of tumultuous social change, contemporary urban Chinese elders and their adult children view and approach traditional Chinese ideals related to intergenerational relationships and filial reciprocity.

At its core, the book explores the results of a survey of Chinese elders and their grown children conducted by Martin King Whyte and colleagues in 1994 in Baoding, China, and compares the findings with an equally notable series of island-wide surveys conducted in urban Taiwan by Albert Hermalin and colleagues in 1989 and 1993. The Baoding survey consisted of interviews with a random sample of 1,002 urban men and women over the age of 50 and 753 of their grown children. The data from Taiwan comprises a representative sample of urban men and women from across the island who were age sixty or older in 1989, including 4,049 who were interviewed in 1989 and 3,155 who were reinterviewed in 1993, along with a random sub-sample of 662 of their adult children. Although the PCR and Taiwan surveys' questions, population samples and time frames were not identical, there is enough overlap in terms of the questions' content and the characteristics of the respondents to make for a meaningful comparison.

The book is divided into four parts. Part I consists of an introductory chapter by the editor, Martin King Whyte, which provides the historical and sociological background on intergenerational relations in China. Part II focuses on giving the reader a general overview of the elderly in Baoding. Chapters by Martin King Whyte, Yuan Fang, Wang Feng, Xiao Zhenyu and Zhan Jie sketch various dimensions of intergenerational relationships among Baoding elderly, including patterns of family obligations, family support for the elderly, and retirement and post-retirement re-employment. Part III explores in more detail the intergenerational exchanges between Baoding elderly and their families. Chapters by Albert Hermalin, Shiauping R. Shih, Shengming Yan, Jieming Chen, Shanhua Yang, Martin King Whyte and Xu Qin examine the different generations' views on the support received by the elderly, patterns of living arrangements across the generations, contributions of sons versus daughters to the support of aging parents, and the effect of parental investment toward old-age support. Part IV involves the comparison of intergenerational relations and support in urban China and urban Taiwan. Here, chapters by Martin King Whyte, Albert I. Hermalin, Mary Beth Ofstedal, Shiauping R. Shih, Jennifer Cornman and Jieming Chen compare the results of the 1994 Baoding survey with the 1989 and 1993 Taiwan surveys. The editor concludes the book with a postscript on the broader implications of these studies for scholarship on filial support and family change in Chinese society.

Most Baoding elderly were very satisfied with their relations with, and with the support that they received from, their grown children. Most also felt that their need for support and assistance were well met by their adult children, and very few claimed an unmet need for assistance. The large majority of Baoding elderly had their own sources of income, and financial support from grown children tended to be supplementary, not primary. …

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