Last Friday, Chinese national legislature amended its law on the elderly to require that adult children visit their aging parents “often” – or risk being sued by them and as a result going to jail.

I had no idea of the new law when I was working on my last Sunday’s post http://www.letgoblog.com/let-your-children-choose-to-make-you-happy until Brian whom I met from the Naperville Writers’ and Poets’ group emailed me the link of the news report. For a country with a long history of considering filial piety, or respect for parents and ancestors, as such an important virtue, it is hard to imagine that such a law would be necessary in the 21st century.

Market reforms have contributed to the break up of the traditional extended family that lived in close vicinity, as more and more young people leave their hometowns so seek work. Population control efforts mean parents have only one child to lean on when they grow older, and that only child has been brought up as the center of the universe and never been given to opportunity to learn how to care for the needs of others (http://www.letgoblog.com/the_x_generation_in_china).

This has become a serious social issue. According to official figures, more than 194 million Chinese are over 60-year-old, and by 2030 that figure will have almost doubled. How the country will provide for its senior citizens is a question that has sparked concern.

There is a story about a young man from Shangdong who was in the habit of punching and kicking his elderly parents. One day his mother couldn’t take it anymore and decided to take her own life by drinking pesticide. When his dad found out and hurriedly took her to the hospital, it was too late. The heartless son angrily and continuously kicked his mother’s corpse. He was charged and sentenced to 7 years behind bars for physically and emotionally abusing his mother.

Earlier this month, state media reported that a grandmother in her 90s in the prosperous eastern province of Jiangsu had been forced by her son to live in a pigpen for two years. News outlets frequently carry stories about other parents being abused or neglected, or of children seeking control of their elderly parents’ assets without their knowledge.

It’s against nature for parents to sue their children, especially Chinese parents. The amendment doesn’t specify how frequently such visits should occur and therefore is largely viewed as toothless but serves as reminder for young people to refocus on the traditional values of filial piety. It remains to be seen whether this law will fuel more lawsuits from desperate and heartbroken parents.

Most of the reactions to the amended law reflected an annoyance with the government interfering in what many people saw as a private matter. Others viewed the law as an attempt by the government to pass the buck on to citizens rather than invest more in social security — a matter that the legislation appeared to gloss over. “Guaranteeing adequate pensions and social welfare for the elderly should be the key points of the law as this is easier to implement,” Yu Shaoxiang, a scholar at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told The Global Times*.

The social phenomenon of adult children neglecting to visit their aging parents is just the tip of the iceberg. Many parents are victims of abuse and neglect at the hands of their own children. To me, most of the cruel, abusive and greedy adults were badly spoiled as children. How to raise emotionally healthy kids who will grow up to be family and society contributors remains a big challenge for China that has been experiencing rapid economic growth in the past 3 decades. Parents also have to stop indulging all their energy for satisfying their only child’s wishes and needs. The little emperors and empresses need to grow up and learn to take responsibilities and consequences of their actions.

* http://www.thehindu.com/news/international/world/new-chinese-law-says-children-must-visit-parents/article4870406.ece