Chinese New Year is this week (February 3rd). May the year of the rabbit bring you health and good fortune. Holiday preparations are well underway, and hopefully people will take the time to reconnect with family and friends.
And if you don’t visit your parents, they might sue you. A new proposal from the Chinese Civil Affairs Ministry seeks to mandate parental visits from Chinese children. And if the children don’t regularly visit their parents, the parents can sue.
We shouldn’t look at this as a new law: it’s just a modern update on an ancient law. Old people have long tried to find ways of forcing their kids to pay attention to them. Some societies use laws, others use the magical threat of eternal damnation. Some parents merely trust that their own skills in psychological torture will keep the kiddies hanging around on the off chance that one day mommy or daddy will be “proud” of them.
But as modern medicine artificially extends life, every society is wrestling with the problem of what to do with old people nobody cares about anymore. China has a long history of trying to regulate the most intimate of familial interactions, so when you think about it, this proposal isn’t really shocking…
My late grandfather was Chinese, an immigrant to the U.S. from China (just outside of Beijing), and my mother dutifully respected him until the day he died. She honored her mother too, notwithstanding the fact that my grandmother was well into the “mean old lady” stage of life by the time I knew her.
For myself, I’m not as tied to these traditional definitions of familial respect. I talk to my mother multiple times a week. And she lives pretty close to me, so I end up seeing her at least once every couple of weeks. But I’m not making these trips or taking these phone calls because somebody “commanded” me to, and I’m certainly not doing it under the threat of legal action. I’m doing it because I like my mom. We disagree (often) but we fundamentally get along.
I don’t get along as well with other members of my family. And so I see them… less. That’s my choice. It should be the choice of every person who has grown into an autonomous adult. I don’t think I could support being actively mean to your parents (unless they physically or sexually abused you). That parrot lady thing still gives me chills. But one of the awesome things about growing up is that you don’t actually have to sit around and listen to parental BS if all they give you is a steady stream of BS. If you want to be a hard-ass parent who is constantly ignoring your child’s needs because you want them to achieve your definition of success, go right ahead. Just know that one day you will be old and lonely and it’s going to be up to that same kid to determine whether or not he or she can stand being in the same room with you.
To quote Chris Rock: “Life is long, especially if you make the wrong decisions.”
Of course putting “rights” and “China” in the same sentence is a little bit silly. The New York Times reports that this new law would be an amendment to China’s current statutes on the rights of old people:
The proposed amendment to a 1996 law on rights of the aged could be considered by the National People’s Congress, China’s government-appointed legislature, when it conducts its annual session in March. But Jing Jun, a sociology professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing, said it was unlikely to pass.
“The national delegates are rational enough,” Mr. Jing said.
But the proposal does have its fair share of supporters:
Other specialists on aging issues hope it sails into law.
“I know the person who drafted this provision, and the first thing I told him was ‘Really nice move,’ ” said Ninie Wang, international director of the Gerontological Society of China, a Beijing-based nonprofit research group. “The whole society needs to start seeing that we need to give the elderly more care and attention.”
Suing people for non-performance of TLC is the new killing it.
Of course, it would be unfair to view this new proposal just from an American perspective. I have Chinese friends who pay a monthly stipend — I’d call it a tithe — to their parents, as if they were making back payments for raising them. If that’s your cultural starting point, suing your children because they didn’t call you on Sunday is less of a leap. As one tipster put it:
I don’t think it’s bad if the amendment goes through. Some elderly get abandoned once their children grow up, and they would have no means to support themselves.
And now I will show myself to be more statist than anything they’ve got going on in China. Because in my view, if your problem is that you have a bunch of old people with no care and no support, then government should step in and provide some basic minimal care for these people who have outlived their usefulness. It seems to me that there should be some kind of societal safety net, some kind of social security, whereby people who have already contributed to society can live out their years without despair.
Putting the onus on the children is too great of an impingement on personal freedom. Maybe kids should take care of their parents, but the state cannot mandate “love.” The law cannot regulate “attention.” And the courts shouldn’t be in the business of punishing “ungrateful SOBs.”
I wish my Chinese grandfather had been alive while I was growing up. From all accounts, he was a great guy, and I’m sure I could have learned something from him. But if he had been alive and a dick, I would have quickly discovered it, and then done what I had to do to be around him as little as possible. His “right” to have awestruck grandchildren could not have trumped my right to not be around people I don’t want to be around.
This Chinese proposal seeks to elevate the rights of the old at the expense of the rights of the young. That’s the amendment’s crucial failure. At the end of the day, hating your parents is an inalienable right that no government can take away.
China Might Force Visits to Mom and Dad [New York Times]