Respect for Elders

I understand that, based on the teachings of Confucius, respect for elders has been the foundation of Chinese culture and morality for more than a thousand years. 
Last summer, when the teachers in my workshop learned my age (only 60) they referred to me as a “senior citizen” and were astounded that I would still be working; they said that their moms (who are my age) live with them, are taken care of, and do very little work other than play with the little one (their words). I must admit that there have been a few times when I’ve longed to retire in China at 60 rather than continue working in the US until 70 or so. My 81-year-old mother, by the way, just recently quit working. 
While wandering around the streets of Shanghai this past week, I’ve frequently seen an elderly person on the arm of a younger person — I assume a daughter or son. I compared this sweet relationship to our seemingly barbaric practice of putting our elderly in nursing homes.

But I googled it tonight, initially searching for Confucius’ teachings on the relationship between parent and child and on showing respect to the elderly. My search eventually led me to disturbing information that challenges my previous conception that those over 60 live out their golden years in ease.
The traditional social security system in China has been the family. But, according to the  sources I read tonight, that support is dwindling. See  “ELDERLY PEOPLE, RETIREMENT AND GRAYING OF CHINA.” In addition, it seems that there is a shortage of nursing homes and retirement centers.
With China’s one child per family policy, there are fewer children to take care of mom when she can no longer support herself. In many rural areas, with the flight of young people to the cities, dad’s situation is precarious. A Time article dated August 31, 2011, “100 Million Elderly: China’s Demographic Time Bomb,” indicates that many of China’s growing population of old people live alone and many in hardship. 

6 thoughts on “Respect for Elders

  1. I went to Qufu – the home of Confucius last weekend. Interesting connection. But – I completely agree. With the one child policy the burden on a married couple to take care of both sets of parents is one that is very precarious – both financially as well as emotionally. There have been stories where parents have sued children for not visiting or caring for them. I anticipate that things are going to get a lot uglier soon. Glad you have captured now with your photos.

  2. CCTV has had some interesting coverage of this issue. (

    In a conversation with a former student I recently mentioned how much I admired extended families as a way of caring for the elderly. My student disagreed and thought the retirement homes of the West were more convenient. Well, she’s never visited one and maybe she’d change her mind if she’d seen what I have. She thinks caring for needy elderly people is too burdensome. I was stunned.

    I do think better choices need to be tried.

  3. Very insightful, Mona. I grew up in an extended family. There is much to be learned when there are multiple generations in a home. That being said, there are also times when the needs of the individual (medically speaking) are better addressed with care outside the home. Those decisions sometimes cause a clash within one’s culture; hopefully those decisions can be made in a loving way along with the affected person.

    • I believe that we, in the United States, in spite of the political rhetoric to the contrary, have a pretty good system of taking care of our parents & grandparents if they need it.

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