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THREE years ago, when I graduated from college, one of my classmates was offered an enviable job in Beijing. I couldn’t believe it when he rejected the offer and instead went to work for a much smaller company in Shanghai so he could be closer to his parents. He explained that his parents were in their 60s and he did not want to see the ancient Chinese saying “by the time sons and daughters want to be filial, the parents are already dead” come true in his family.|
This February, when I was watching the Spring Festival Gala, a heart-warming song entitled “Where the time has been” caught my attention. The song brought to mind the vivid memories of my happy childhood and reminded me how time has severed the once intimate bonds between grown kids and aged parents. I began to understand my classmate’s decision, and I felt ashamed because my parents sacrificed so much for me, but I have paid back so little.
Last month, my father called me and I asked him if he had something important to tell me. He said, “no, I just feel we haven’t talked to each other for a long time, and I miss you a lot.” Suddenly, I realized that after “drifting” for years in Beijing, I had almost forgotten to reach out to my family for affection. Instead, I got lost in the pursuit of my career.
I remember when I was back home this Spring Festival, I never thought about buying gifts for my parents. But when I returned to Beijing, I thought carefully about what special products I should buy for each of my workmates.
The Chinese have a well-earned reputation of honoring filial piety and having family-orientated values. As a result, I think my roommate’s choice was a good one considering that, as an only child, he has the responsibility to look after his parents who live in China’s most aged city. About 27 percent of Shanghai’s population is over 60.
To me, I always imagine my parents are still healthy and can take care of themselves. When I am in a better place in my career, I will finally be able to pay my parents back for all their hard work. I am not the only one who thinks this way. As the economy has developed, increasing population mobility has wreaked havoc on the centuries-old belief that “families of several generations should live together and look after one another,” and more and more aged parents are left behind in hometowns while the young migrate to other cities. Many friends of mine working in Beijing believe that they must become affluent enough to buy a spacious house and a fancy car before they can bring their parents to Beijing. They strongly believe that without becoming richer, taking good care of their parents is impossible. However, what parents really need is not a comfortable lifestyle, but the company and the warmth of being with family.
After China started reforming, more and more young people left their homes and started their own businesses, and their entrepreneurialism has fueled our miraculous economic growth. However, senior citizens are left alone more and are less happy. Behind the story of my roommate and me is a broader picture: China is galloping toward an ageing society. According to U.N. statistics, a country with 10 percent of its population over 60 years of age or 7 percent over 65 classifies as an “ageing society.” China reached 14.9 percent and 9.7 percent, respectively, in late 2013, which means that China has approximately 200 million elderly people. Among them, 97 million are “empty-nesters,” meaning their children live in other cities. Some predict that by 2050, one-third of the Chinese population will be elderly.
Ageing has become an urgent problem for both the younger generations and the government to tackle. We need to do something together before it is too late. I am beginning to understand the importance of calling my parents and going home to see them regularly. We all should extend our love and affection to our ageing parents. I will do so without delay. Will you?