SMOKINCHOICES (and other musings)

January 8, 2014

Aging in China, big woe

What’s running China’s “bus” ?

(This is seriously thought-provoking and it is only coincidental that two consecutive posts are about China and how the culture is changing there.  Both of them are downers, big time. . .but worth giving a bit of attention to.  It is possible that more thought should go into how much of a country’s resources should logically be allotted to the needs of the elders among us and why.  The sorrowful situation in China emerging as we read this article  is just so disturbing.  There is enough pain to go around for every person described.  They literally have no choice, no system in place as we do here in our own country.   

We may not have it as good as we expected, but it sure beats hell out of China!  We had established retirement in the pay-as-you-go (and work and contribute to it) plan  so that we would have something to fall back on. Yes, Social Security and Medicare were efficient, benevolent ideas borne out of a caring society and wise leaders. 

Of course, stuff is changing here as well.   The age of Corporatology has screwed everything up almost totally.  Instead of  being grateful for our gorgeous planet which we were given to use as we wished, verdant, lush and magnificently beautiful, we now are struggling to live in health as our planet is defiled, poisoned, sterilized and raped for every essential man can find to satisfy the need for the bottomless pit of greed, in this age of bigger, newer, more complex known as progressive industrialization. Wholesome nature is no longer seen or recognized as part of the divine intention of our life here. 

But I digress.  If elders are only a burden and a class of people no one knows how to handle or can’t be lovingly, compassionately involved with, it may be a good idea for ethical leaders to give thought to practical, preferable closings for lives which no longer elicit joy and desire to be here and participating.  Many want to die when overly ill or compromised.  There should be comfortable, agreeable possibilities, free of stigma or shame and blame.  No one wants to live into old age unless they are having a good life and want to remain.  Misery and suffering and empty lonesomeness does not bring wisdom or rewards — it brings more suffering! 

Nor should “Medicine” go out of it’s way to spend these massive financial investments in the final year or years of life trying for unreasonable extension because members of family can’t let them go.  Huge amounts could be saved.  Rather like a pregnant woman feels when she has reached full-term – by golly, it’s time!  Many elders also recognize, their time has come and are willing and ready.  

I am somewhat confused that China is this ‘Money-bags’ (bank) loaning all this money to everyone including us and seems to have enough to be over here buying up as many profitable businesses as it can, especially, natural resources, and yet it can’t or won’t take care of it’s people?  How does any of this make sense?  Maybe it’s that “Corporatology” thing, .  .  I dunno.   Jan 

Woman, 94, in China sues children for better care

By Kristen Gelineau Associated Press

FUSHENG, China — The daughter-in-law smashes the cockroach under her foot and rolls open the rusted metal doors to the garage. Light spills onto a small figure huddled on a straw mattress in a dank room. A curious face peers out.

The face is the most infamous in this village in the lush green mountains of   southwestern China. It’s the face of Kuang Shiying’s 94-year-old mother-in-law — better known as the little old lady who sued her children for not taking care of her.

The drama that is playing out inside this ramshackle house reflects a wider dilemma. The world’s population is aging fast, because of longer life spans and lower birth rates, and there will soon be more old people than young for the first time in history. So who is responsible for the care of the elderly?

A handful of countries, such as India, France and Ukraine, require adult children to financially support their parents. Similar laws are in place in 29 U.S. states, Puerto Rico and most of Canada, although they are little known and rarely enforced because government funds help support the old.

In China, where aid is scarce and family loyalty is a cornerstone of society, more than 1,000 parents already have sued their children for financial support over the past 15 years. But recently, the government went further, and amended its elder-care law to require that children also support their parents emotionally. Children who don’t visit their parents can be taken to court — by mom and dad.

                                                                                                                                               Eugene Hoshiko | Associated Press

                           Photographed in March, Zhang Zefang, 94, sits on her bed in her living quarters, a converted garage.

Zhang Zefang hardly looks like the vindictive matriarch many assume she must be. A tiny woman with blotchy skin, she stares at visitors through half-blinded eyes.

Zhang is one of about 3,800 residents of the village of Fusheng, where life seems frozen in the past. The pace is slow and the atmosphere placid.

But inside Kuang and Zhang’s home, there is war.  Resentment hangs in the air, acrid like the stench from the urine-filled bucket next to Zhang’s bed. The cluttered storage space she calls home is as loveless as it is lightless. This is the center of a family feud that erupted amid accusations of lying, ingratitude, abuse, neglect and broken promises.

Zhang wants you to know this: She never wanted to take her children to court.

“I never thought about whether my kids would take care of me when I was old,” she says. “I just focused on taking care of them.”

Her eyes begin to water. Inside her room, there is no heat, no window. Zhang spends her days alone in the dark.

In China, growing old once meant earning the respect of the young, and the idea of filial piety, or honoring your parents, was instilled from birth. Parents cared for their children, and their children later cared for them. Neither side had a choice.
Zhang Zefang

This is the world Zhang was born into, on Aug. 15, 1919.  Her parents married her off at 14. Her husband died, and she found herself a widow with two little girls and her mother-in-law to support. But her mother-in-law set her free.

Zhang quickly remarried. Her new husband, a furniture maker, was too poor to support her, so they moved in with his parents.  Her new in-laws expected her to look after them. And that’s when her nightmare began.

*              *            *           *

“She’s not making sense!” Kuang snaps.  Zhang, the target of Kuang’s ire, is hunched on her bed, mouth set in a grim line. She barely acknowledges her daughter-in-law’s insult.

Both women are fighting for their audience. Kuang hovers over her mother-in-law, interjecting constant critiques: Zhang is messing up the story, Zhang cannot remember.    Zhang is crying.

Her father-in-law, she says, was a gambling addict with a violent temper. Still, she never considered leaving — she would have become an outcast.

Zhang’s growing brood survived mainly on boiled corn stalks. Yet when her hated father-in-law died, she had to give her food to the funeral guests.

Three decades later, her husband died, leaving her to the mercy of her offspring. But the world had changed, and the bickering and bartering began. Her existence seemed to inconvenience everyone.

Zhang murmurs that she wants to say something, but is afraid to talk in front of her daughter-in-law. A reluctant Kuang steps outside and Zhang pleads: “Don’t let her know that I told you this…”

Her family locks her in this room all day. She dares not scream for help for fear she will be beaten.

All she wants is to go to a nursing home, she says. But the few nursing homes in China supply only 22 beds for every 1,000 seniors, and most are too expensive for the average family.

*             *             *             *

  • China is projected to have 636 million people older than 50 — nearly 49 percent of the population — by 2050, up from 25 percent in 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. So who will care for them?

Around the world, rapidly increasing life spans have left many adults scrambling to look after their parents, their children and themselves. And in China, one-child urban policies over three decades mean there are even fewer working youngsters to support their elders.

Meanwhile, social and economic changes have eroded traditional family values. A lack of jobs means rural youths must leave their parents to find work in distant cities. And even children who can afford nursing homes fear that sending their parents away will mark them as “unfilial,” says sociologist Jenny Zhan.

The result is an emotional and generational tug of war.

Kuang stands in the kitchen, frustration etched into every line of her face. She knows what Zhang has been saying about her. And it’s all a lie, she says.

Kuang has become the true matriarch of this clan. Ask to speak to her husband, and she’ll insist he won’t know what to say. She knows best, so just ask her. It’s not an offer — it’s an order.

But it is also Kuang who looks after her mother-in-law, because in China, as in many other places, women shoulder most of the responsibility of elder care.

*                *              *              *

Zhang’s children have all come up with reasons why they cannot take care of her.

The oldest son, Zhou Mingde, lives about a mile away from his mother. His pension is $13 a month. He sells one pig a year to buy medicine for his paraplegic wife. He is still farming corn and millet because he has to eat.

“I have to take care of my old mother. My wife. Myself,” he says. “I am 71 years old already.”

Then there’s the middle son, Zhou Yinxi. His daughter has schizophrenia, and his wife committed suicide. At 68, he is broke and won’t receive his pension for two years. “I’m also pretty helpless,” he says.

Next up is the youngest, Zhou Gangming, 56, and his wife, Kuang, 58. Their only income will come from selling their two pigs and one cow, and their $16 monthly pension.

Zhang’s oldest son confides that in the days when his mother was younger, stronger and meaner, she beat Kuang.

Gangming says they are now too poor and exhausted to look after Zhang, but he knows they shouldn’t abandon her.

Finally, there is the daughter, 54-year-old Zhou Yunhua. By all accounts, she would like to care for her mother, but lives too far away.

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