Like many elderly mainlanders, Zhang Yueqin has mixed feelings about the prospect of selling a share of her home to the bank for a monthly payment.
On one hand, the 78-year-old widow from Huaian city, Jiangsu province, must find some way to supplement the meagre 600 yuan (HK$757) pension she receives from the government each month. On the other, she feels uncomfortable knowing that each payment would decrease her children's inheritance.
So-called reverse mortgages pose similar dilemmas for elderly homeowners the world over. But Zhang is grappling with another, acutely Chinese concern: The deep-seated belief that parents have an obligation to leave something behind when they die.
Almost all of Zhang's wealth is locked in her 80-square-metre flat, valued at about 450,000 yuan (HK$568,000).
"How can I tell my children I want to mortgage the property which I originally planned to leave to them," said Zhang, who is currently cared for by her daughter and son-in-law. "As they take care of me, I think I should leave them the property."
Zhang's case illustrates the problem that the central government faces as it considers promoting reverse mortgages - or "home-for-pension" schemes - as a possible way to provide for the country's ballooning elderly population.
While such loans have been met with similar scepticism wherever they have been introduced, they face particularly strong resistance in China, with its ancient tradition of familial responsibility.
Chai Xiaowu, a professor at Zhejiang University who has written several books on reverse mortgages, said their development has been hindered by cultural expectations of property inheritance in China.
"Although some of the younger generation are now financially independent, their parents still want to leave their properties to them," Chai said.
Still, the concept may yet gain broad acceptance, even if a tradition that has lasted for thousands of years cannot be changed overnight. People may have no choice.
The State Council is scrambling to find some way to support the country's rapidly greying population. The number of people aged 60 or above reached 194 million last year, or roughly 14.3 per cent of the population. It is projected to hit 200 million by the end of the year and increase to 300 million by 2025.
Rather than commit to a dramatic increase in traditional pensions - an approach that has contributed to the fiscal woes of many developed nations - Beijing is examining reverse mortgages.
The State Council, China's cabinet, published a proposal on September 13 to launch a trial homes-for-pensions scheme, possibly next year, spurring debate around the country's dinner tables.
In more technical terms, reverse mortgages allow homeowners to secure monthly payments from financial institutions using their properties as collateral. In the meantime, the owner can still live in the property.
Even if a homeowner gets over the philosophical considerations, there are risks to consider. The deals are complex and homeowners may feel like the bank has undervalued their homes, particularly if housing prices continue to rise fast.
"Regardless of the changes in property values throughout the term of payments, the monthly payouts will remain unchanged," Chai said. "You may regret that the property was undervalued when property prices go up."
Also, 55 is the common retirement age on the mainland. Most people would not have enough equity locked in their homes to last the rest of their lives. And those payouts face their own restrictions.
Elderly homeowners also face practical considerations in the application process, like how to get their children on board.
"If I wanted to mortgage my apartment, I need my daughter and son to go to the bank with me as the procedures are too complicated," said Zhang, who owned a small business before she retired.
China Citic Bank, which two years ago became the first mainland lender to sell reverse mortgages to customers aged 55 or above, will pay no more than 60 per cent of the property's market value, according to a customer service employee for the bank.
The mortgage life is capped at 10 years, he said. The borrower can receive no more than 50,000 yuan a month.
"The elderly will also need to submit a health report," he said. "It will take about one month for approval as the bank is strict in risk management on reverse mortgage business."
Such products have not received an enthusiastic response. "The main reason is tradition among elderly Chinese and a lack of awareness," Citic Bank said in an email reply to the Post.
Moreover, banks, insurance companies and other financial institutions had set strict requirements for reverse mortgages in an effort to manage risk, said Zhang Hongwei , a research head at the property consultancy Tospur.
While the debate on reverse mortgages goes on, pensioners like Zhang are still trying to figure out how to survive on just 600 yuan a month.
"It's not enough," she said. "I really hope that I can have more money for living. But I also want to let my children inherit my property."