CHEN XINYUE lies quietly in bed, thin wisps of her hair splayed
on the pillow, her frail hands curled on the blanket.
Four months earlier, the 78-year-old Mrs. Chen was forced to
come to the Yangpu District Home for the Aged because her six
children had neither the room for her in their crowded apartments
nor the time to care for her outside their busy jobs.
She has been sick for much of the time since arriving. But Yang
Rendi, a daughter who was visiting one afternoon, says Chen's
"When she first arrived, she felt ill-at-ease because she
didn't know what kind of institution this was," Ms. Yang says.
"Now she is gradually getting used to it, and her health is
improving. We had to be practical. At home, she was lonely, and we
had to worry about her meals and whether she would just walk out of
China faces a crisis in caring for its elderly as the government
is forced to take on responsibilities performed for centuries by
the family. The situation grows out of the government's stringent
one-child-per-family policy and the economic reforms that triggered
a major shift in social mores, Chinese analysts say.
"How to better provide and care for the aged is a big problem
for China," says Hong Guodong, director of the China Research
Center on Aging in Beijing. "Respecting the old is a traditional
value in China. However, this belief is decaying. Younger people
tend to seek pleasure for themselves and care less for the old.
Perhaps this is the price a nation pays for modernization."
Within a generation, China will have the largest elderly
population on earth - more than 370 million by the year 2040,
almost 25 percent of its population.
Across East Asia, fast-track economies and stunning social
changes are effecting in 25 years what it took the better part of
a century to do in the West: As rapidly aging populations strain
the region's fast growth and resources, governments are forced to
develop their meager pension and social security programs to
compensate for the weakened extended-family support system. Women
who in the past cared for elderly family members, for example, are
now too busy with jobs and raising children.
"China is now in a transformation from family care to community
care," says Wu Linqiao, a Shanghai official dealing with aging
issues. "How can one couple care for four older people? Socialized
care will become more important than family care," he adds.
In rural areas, the crisis is even more acute, Chinese
researchers say. Now that they are free to move to the cities, many
young farmers in urban areas can no longer care for aging parents
in the countryside. The grandparents may also have to raise
grandchildren left behind. …