It requires sons and daughters to visit their parents more often and look after them

In ancient China, filial piety, or respect for parents and ancestors, was considered such an important virtue that one widely taught 13th century Confucian text even spoke of an eight-year-old boy who happily sacrifices his blood to protect his parents from mosquito bites.

Today, however, Chinese parents are grappling with a more mundane problem — getting their children to visit.

As older values erode and China’s society rapidly ages — by 2050, one in three people will be over 60 — how the country will provide for its senior citizens is a question that has sparked concern.

On Monday, the Chinese government offered one solution: putting into effect a law that requires sons and daughters to visit their parents more often and look after them.

The new law, a revised version of an earlier — and largely toothless — legislation on the Protection of the Rights and Interests of the Elderly, also makes it mandatory for companies to grant at least 20 days of annual home leave to employees who do not live in the same towns as their parents.

In a reflection of how traditional values have changed, the law’s introduction was greeted only by wide derision from most young Chinese, at least judging by the reaction from the vibrant online community.

Most of the reactions 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 vagueness of the legislation was another source of concern. For instance, it does not mention whether citizens would be penalised in any way if they failed to fulfil requirements.

“More quantitative standards and measures need to be added,” Peking University sociologist Xia Xueluan told state media.

Despite its many inadequacies, the law has already appeared to have been successful in achieving at least one of its objectives: bringing attention to a problem that many Chinese scholars say has been long ignored as social concerns took a back seat in the past two decades of breathless growth.

The number of Chinese over the age of 60 is expected to touch 200 million this year, or around 15 per cent of the population. By 2050, demographers say, one-third of the Chinese population would be over 60, resulting in a shrinking labour force and soaring social security costs.

“The current revision looks more like a reminder for young people to refocus on the traditional values of filial piety,” Mr. Xia suggested, “rather than a compulsory law.”

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