New standards on filial piety cause unhappiness

New standards addressing filial pietyare criticised as the government passing the buck on social problems

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 20 August, 2012, 5:04am

Since ancient times, the virtue of filial piety, or treating one's parents and ancestors with the utmost respect, has been considered an integral part of Chinese society, and one in which people take great pride.

The public is taught at a young age about the 24 paragons of filial piety, based on texts from the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368).

So imagine the shock and heated debate that followed a recent call by central authorities for people to follow a new standard of filial piety in the modern era. Academics accused the government of trying to pass the buck to individuals to solve social problems while internet users said they now felt guilty for not taking better care of their parents.

The new standards, released last Tuesday by the China National Committee on Ageing and the All-China Women's Federation, call on adults to spend holidays with their parents, cook them meals and call them weekly.

Children are also advised to help divorced or widowed parents remarry, take them to see movies from their youth, listen to them recount moments from the past, and even show them how to surf the internet.

The 24-point outline for filial duties will begin later this year as a public education campaign sponsored by the governments of 15 first- and second-tier cities, and will last until late 2013.

The new guidelines come two months after a motion by the National People's Congress to amend a law protecting the interests of the elderly, by making it a criminal offence for children not to spend a certain amount of time with their parents every year.

Aside from whether it is appropriate for the government to issue guidelines governing its people's private affairs, the repeated calls for adults to take better care of their parents show there is an urgent need to care for the elderly in an ageing society, as social security support for them remains low, said Dr Liu Kaiming, director of the Institute of Contemporary Observation.

"Traditionally, the aged depend on their children for care and financial support, but rapid urbanisation and the vast migrant population have broken the old pattern," Liu said, adding that 50 million elderly people are estimated to be living alone.

Judging by the new standards, many internet users say they are now "unfilial", but there is little they can do to change that, as they have demanding jobs and their own hardships.

Meanwhile, the Communist Party Organisation Department of a county in Huaihua, Hunan, said recently that applicants who are found not to be providing sufficient care for their parents will not be eligible to be party members.