The revelation that a Lianyungang farmer kept his 100-year-old mother in a pigsty for two years has added fuel to the debate of conditions facing the elderly.
The farmer, Chen Shoutian, became the target of internet outrage yesterday after Jiangsu Television reported that he forced his ageing mother to make her bed in a muddy pen outside his Guanyun county home, where he also keeps a 200kg sow. When confronted by the television crew, Chen defended his actions. He said his six-room house was fully occupied and had no space for his mother, who cannot move easily and speaks with difficulty.
"My mother has told me she wants to live [with the sow] because it is convenient," Chen said, insisting the space was warm and comfortable. "I could live here any minute."
But family members accused Chen of refusing their pleas to improve the woman's living conditions. Chen's sister, Gu Yuqing, said: "There were countless flies and mosquitoes in summer and my mother was living right here," she said. "It broke my heart. She's so old, and to live with pigs?"
Gu said the mother had five sons and three daughters, but the sons took turns caring for her, according to local tradition.
She had tried to convince her to come live with her, but the woman refused, preferring to stay with the son.
After the television report alerted the county government to the situation, government officials visited Chen's house and ordered him to improve his mother's living conditions. He immediately made her a bed in the kitchen.
The story drew a fierce discussion on the internet, where some called for more laws to protect the elderly and more benefits to support the mainland's traditional system of filial piety, in which children are expected to care for their ageing parents.
"It's a bit sad, though, that a 1,000-year old tradition now needs to be protected by law," one Sina Weibo user said.
Another hoped Chen had children who would one day put him in a pigpen: "We all get old. What we are doing to our parents today is what our children will do to us in the future."