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The plight of China's growing elderly population came to public attention this past week when a Zhejiang grandmother admitted that she is so lonely that she is willing to pay someone to act as her "daughter."
Li Yanling, 63, caused a stir on Chinese social media when she offered a free, all-expense paid vacation to any young woman willing to accompany her to Hainan. Li sweetened the offer by including an iPhone 7.
"I live alone in Zhengzhou... I'd like a warm-hearted girl between the ages of 19 and 24 years old to go with me to chat with and take photos," Li wrote in her WeChat post.
"I'd like to see the sea in Sanya this winter, but just fear the loneliness of traveling solo," she explained.
After Li's post went viral, a number of netizens offered to accompany Li without even requiring any compensation in return. "I don't need the phone but can come with you, auntie, and I will pay my own bills, as long as it relieves your loneliness," said one netizen.
Sadly, Li's desperation for companionship does not stem from lack of a family. Li said she's been feeling lonely ever since her daughter immigrated to Canada and her husband began taking long hiking trips, leaving her at home by herself.
"He has his travel buddies, (and) I don't want to bother my daughter," she said.
Although the option of traveling with a crowded tour group is always available to Chinese tourists, Li said what she really wants is the company of a young woman who will serve as a surrogate daughter.
"I'm afraid of loneliness," Li explained.
Empty-nesters like Li make up over half of China's growing elderly population, estimated to be 220 million last year by the National Health and Family Planning Commission. But although Li felt she needed to pay someone to take care of her emotional needs, Chinese laws already exist that ensure the welfare of the country's elderly.
China passed the "Elderly Rights Law" in 2012, thereby allowing parents to sue their children if they feel they are being neglected. That was the case when 94-year-old Zhang Zefang successfully sued her children the very next year after they refused to take care of her.
Filial piety, otherwise known as the virtue of revering previous generations, is universally expected from China's younger generation. The practice is seen everywhere from filial piety rallies to news stories where children are seen taking their paralyzed parents on walks or with them when they move into a university dorm.(news from CCTV and Weibo)