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Nursing homes no substitute for love

2013-09-23 14:50 Global Times Web Editor: Li Yan
Illustration: Peter C. Espina

Illustration: Peter C. Espina

A couple of weeks ago when I visited my parents in my hometown, a small city near Sichuan's provincial capital Chengdu, I noticed a number of newly-built, mostly unoccupied villa complexes scattering the suburbs.

A friend told me the complexes will be developed into nursing homes.

Having settled in Beijing thousands of kilometers from my own retired parents, I've recently started considering an increasingly urgent dilemma: when can my parents move to Beijing to reunite with me, their only daughter?

My father once told me he would never live under the same roof as me in his old age. I believe deep down that he just doesn't want to cause any inconvenience to my life. But do my parents really want to move into a nursing home?

Caring for the elderly has been a hot-button issue recently, with debate raging over how to cope with the "gray wave" sweeping the country. China is expected to have 200 million people over 60, accounting for almost 15 percent of the total population, by the end of 2013, according to the China Research Center on Aging.

My parents, who used to have stable jobs, live on quite decent pensions by third-tier city standards, where the cost of housing is around 4,000 yuan ($653) per square meter.

But the problem facing my parents is that they need a home in Beijing - where housing is at least eight times more expensive - so I can take care of them.

They understand the high cost of relocating, which is a common problem facing many people like me from the post-1980s generation. The "421 family model" - comprising of four grandparents, two parents and one child - places a heavy financial strain on young couples.

Attitudes toward retiree lifestyles have changed greatly in recent years in China. Traditionally, the elderly relied on their children to care for and accommodate them. But now they depend on their pensions, savings and own housing. For elderly couples who are childless or whose only child lives overseas, moving into a nursing home might be the only solution.

I asked several Chinese friends if they would send their parents to nursing homes. Most refused, comparing such an act to "throwing your parents away" in defiance of filial piety values. However, a few friends were open to the idea, noting that at least parents will be less lonely if in the company of peers.

Ahead of the Double Nine Festival, a traditional day honoring elderly people that falls on October 13 this year, the central government has announced policies that aim to improve aged care by encouraging local governments and the private sector to invest in building nursing homes.

I might be reluctant to get aboard the nursing home bandwagon, but my vision about family still involves four generations living under one roof. Providing parents with the happiness of grandchildren is the best way to thank them for their own parenting.

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