The Pain of Being Old in One-Child China

By David Mills Published on January 2, 2016

In America, writes the journalist Mei Fong, “having children may help you stay out of the nursing home.” But in China, after years of a government forcing families to have only one child, not having any surviving kids “could shut you out.”

In China, the term for parents who’ve lost their only child is shidu. Many nursing homes will not admit shidu couples because they have no progeny to authorize treatments or act as payment guarantors. This form of discrimination appears to extend beyond the grave: some shidu parents complain cemeteries won’t sell them burial plots for them or their deceased children, concerned there will be nobody to pay for future upkeep. There are currently a million shidu parents in China, with an additional 76,000 joining their ranks yearly. They’ve petitioned Beijing — to little avail — for more financial help and priority in adoptions. They argue — with some justification, since Beijing has made money off of fines from one-child violators — it should compensate families who observed the laws, only to lose out financially and emotionally with the death of their only child.

That’s just one cost of China’s long, and sometimes brutal, attempt to keep down the growth of the population. The government has recently relaxed the limit, but that’s too little too late, Fong writes in Pacific Standard. Fong, the author of the upcoming book One Child: The Past and Future of China’s Most Radical Social Experiment, notes that while the ratio of workers to retirees is now 5 to 1, in just 20 years it will be 1.4 to 1. And that’s bad for everyone.

About the shidu, Fong notes that they

have even asked for nursing homes exclusively for their kind. One reason: visiting days. “Seeing other people with their families … it’s just unbearable,” said one parent. It’s a pain no dramatic policy announcement will ease.

 For “Country of the Old,” click here.
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