Chongyang Festival reveals lack of respect for elderly
Published: Oct 21, 2015 06:08 PM Updated: Oct 22, 2015 08:39 AM
For Chongyang Festival yesterday, 100 million elderly mothers, fathers and grandparents across China were wished a happy "old folks day" by their children and relatives.

While many tech-savvy seniors received their greetings via WeChat, old-fashioned old folks simply used their telephones. I myself made a call to my mother, who lives alone in our ancestral hometown 250 kilometers away from Shanghai.

After I hung up, I was struck by a bit of melancholy for my mother and all the other elderly in China who had to spend this day alone, apart from their family members who, like me, work in another city or province.

Also known as Double Ninth Day, Chongyang Festival traditionally falls on the ninth day of the ninth month of the lunar calendar and has become a time-honored occasion to show respect to our elders.

On this day, nursing homes receive field trips from kindergartens and primary schools so that students can visit those senior citizens who may not have any family to care for them. The kids sing, dance, give flowers and help them with small tasks such as cleaning their rooms.

Many community centers and charitable organizations also organize special activities on Double Ninth Day, including sending volunteers to assisted living facilities to give geriatric seniors a haircut, a manicure and even feet washing.

A local nursing home reportedly received seven batches of volunteers throughout the day, each whom repeated the exact same tasks. One old man complained that his feet became swollen after getting them washed half a dozen times.

However good-natured these gestures may have been intended, the abundance of visits and phone calls that take place during Chongyang Festival is also an indication of our country's increasing lack of love and respect toward seniors, for it contrasts starkly with the remaining 364 days of the year when China's elderly remain virtually forgotten by the outside world.

People's Daily reported that by the end of 2014, the population of Chinese people above 60 years old reached 212 million, accounting for 15.5 percent of China's entire population. This has made aging one of China's most serious dilemmas, but the reasons cited in the media - including an unbalanced labor force, low pension reserves and a lack of public health care or social security for retirees - should in fact not be our biggest concern.

No, the real issue affecting seniors and Chinese culture as a whole is our collective lack of filial piety. Where we once saw old folks as national treasures who had withstood the tests of time - and what country has put its citizens through more challenges in centuries past than China? - younger generations today tend to view the elderly as mere burdens.

One recent case in Shanghai revealed that a 78-year-old father was forced to sue his 46-year-old daughter just to get her to visit him on holidays and his birthday. The Pudong New Area People's Court ruled in his favor.

How sad that it has come to this, but the fact of the matter is that with our younger generations displaying more selfish and spoiled tendencies than any other generation, we as a rapidly aging nation - China will become the world's most aged society by 2030 according to a report by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences - cannot afford to risk relying on them for financial support.

Under Chinese law, it is an adult child's responsibility to look after their parents, but with a growing number of graduates in China unable to find jobs and our economy coming back down to realistic levels, it will take more than legislation to persuade young adults to part with their paltry incomes.

One private company in southern Guangdong Province is attempting to make filial duty obligatory for its workforce by automatically transferring 5-10 percent of its employees' monthly salary to their parents' bank accounts. All prospective candidates must agree to this policy prior to being hired.

Perhaps this type of compulsory "filial fund" will eventually catch on with other companies across China until one day, hopefully, it becomes ingrained in our society again that just as our parents and grandparents raised us when we were young, we all must return the favor and help care for them, financially and physically, in their autumn and winter years. And not just during Chongyang Festival.