Chinese law forces people to ‘visit and greet’ their ageing parents

Legislation requiring children to care for parents’ ‘spiritual needs’ criticised as too general

An elderly man in his house in Guangxi province. Photograph: Greg Baker/AP Photo

An elderly man in his house in Guangxi province. Photograph: Greg Baker/AP Photo


A new law, called the “Protection of the Rights and Interests of the Elderly People”, went into effect in China yesterday, requiring family members to visit and care for their aged parents.

Filial piety is a serious business in China, deeply ingrained in the national psyche, but the transformation of Chinese society in three decades of reform has played havoc with the traditional family model, as people leave their homes to work and cannot stay in their villages to care for their aged parents. Retirement homes are a rarity, and decent pension provision is also a long way away.

The law requires children to care for their parents’ “spiritual needs” as there is already a rule that people must care for their parents’ physical needs. If you do not live with your parents, you must visit or at least “greet them frequently”. If offspring do not obey this clause, parents can apply for mediation or bring the case to court.

“I think the law is too general,” Shanxi Jiujiu wrote on the Chinese social network Sina Weibo. “This will be just propaganda and a regulation to encourage people to do so. It won’t be carried out by force.”

Xu Zhenhua, a Shanghai lawyer, told the Shanghai Daily newspaper it remained unclear how often people should visit. “Also, there is no clarification of the punishment for people who break this clause of the law,” said Mr Xu.

China has about 400 million migrant workers who have left their homes in the countryside to work in the cities. Many have one holiday a year, at Chinese New Year, and usually head back to their ancestral homes then.

One-child policy
The one-child policy, launched in the 1970s to control population growth, has led to a major change in the proportion of old people to children in China. By 2050, about 31 per cent of the population will be over 60.

A survey by state broadcaster China Central Television found about 11.9 per cent of people had not visited their parents in years while 33.4 per cent saw them just once a year.

“So filial piety is in the statute books now? How do you carry it out? What do people like me who work away from home do?” wrote Fu chen chen xiao xiao.