CHINA's one-child policy, combined with its growing number of elderly people, will place enormous pressure on family ties in the future, says Professor Jing Qicheng of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
Professor Jing, in the territory last week to give a speech on the one-child policy to the Hong Kong Psychological Society, says that in 50 years, elderly people will make up 20 per cent of China's population.
This will put a strain on old age state benefits and most old people will eventually have to rely on their own families for care and support, he believes. This in turn will place heavy responsibility on the smaller pool of children available to do the caring.
Such a development will require strong family links between the generations in order to ensure the elderly receive adequate care. At present, Professor Jing feels the ties between the young and old are still intact but he is worried that links may weaken as China continues to develop economically and the divorce rate increases.
He also fears a decline in moral values as a result of the one-child policy introduced in 1979. Today, 95 per cent of students at kindergartens in big cities are from single-child families. The policy is less rigidly enforced in the countryside.
''Young people are no longer as respectful towards their grandparents as before,'' he notes.
And, he says, beliefs, such as selflessness and willingness to work, are no longer given much attention.
''Parents are more concerned about their children's future success in an increasingly competitive, virtually capitalist society.
''Their key concern is for their children to go to the best schools so they have a better chance of getting a good career or going abroad.
''There should be a balance between work and play,'' Professor Jing says. ''The economy changes fast, but values shouldn't.'' Professor Jing, who is also vice-president of the International Union of Psychological Science, has noticed certain negative characteristics which seem common to youngsters from single-child families.
''Many teachers are worried about them, including myself.
''Children from one-child families tend to be less independent and more self-centred,'' he says.
''Both parents and grandparents tend to be over-protective.
''The children are generally smarter intellectually because of the amount of attention and resources devoted to them. But socially, they may not fare as well.'' Personal development, Professor Jing explains, can be hampered by lack of social interaction.
A grandfather himself, Professor Jing highly values the mainland's three-generational family structure.
''Most young parents in China work. They often require their parents' help in taking care of their children.
''And grandparents gain pleasure from taking care of children. They may feel lonely and isolated if they are not involved in matters related to the children. They feel satisfied helping out,'' said Professor Jing.
He believes Hong Kong families will be spared the restriction on the number of children, given the Basic Law which states that the present system in Hong Kong be kept unchanged for 50 years.
''There is no need for such a policy. Hong Kong is too small. It has only six million people, while China's population increases by about 16 million a year.'' ''It's in China's best interests to keep Hong Kong the way it is, to keep it stable.''