When Filial Piety Is the Law

In a New York Times op-ed, author Yu Hua complains that by compelling regular contact with parents with China’s recently amended “filial piety law”, the Party is using legislation to replace values that it itself destroyed:

When I was a boy, during the Cultural Revolution, I furtively read a book that was banned at the time. It was titled “The 24 Paragons of Filial Piety,” and I have never forgotten one story in it. In the Jin dynasty there was an exemplary son named Wu Meng, born to a family too poor to own a mosquito net. When the sting of mosquitoes made it difficult for his father to sleep, Wu Meng took off his shirt and sat by his parents’ bed, letting the mosquitoes bite him and never once swatting them away, so that they had no reason to leave him and bite his parents.

China’s imperial dynasties stressed the importance of being loyal to one’s ruler and country and dutiful to one’s parents, but when the “Paragons” was banned, it meant that, of loyalty and filial piety, only loyalty remained — loyalty to the Communist Party. While the Communist Party now promotes filial piety, it ignores its own history of suppressing it and blames individual behavior for the breakdown of ethical norms, then comes out with a ridiculous legal clause as it fudges its own responsibility as the party in power for the last 63 years. [Source]

At Global Times, on the other hand, Liu Zhen claims that the law has been widely misunderstood, blaming netizens’ “opposing-for-sake-of-opposing mindset” and arguing that the requirement is for family members to either “visit” or just “keep in touch”:

Unfortunately, this provision has been misinterpreted as a demand that adults must come back home and meet their aging parents on a regular basis, even from great distances.

What’s more, many people who do not have enough legal awareness condemn this article, because in their minds, it does not carry a mandatory penalty on those who violate it.

However, it should be noted that not all legal provisions should come with a guidebook of punishments.

For example, the marriage law requires a couple to be honest with each other. But the law does not punish anyone just because one side has an affair. The revision has left enough space for judges to exercise discretion. [Source]

At South China Morning Post, Chang Ping addresses suspicions that the requirement’s real goal is to shift the burden of care onto families from China’s overburdened, inefficient and corruption-plagued social security system. If this is indeed the case, he argues, it will not be enough without deeper changes.

In old photos now posted online, officials promoting birth control are seen holding up banners with the slogan that promised people they could “rely on the government in old age”. That has morphed through the years to become “rely on yourself in your old age, don’t ask the country for help”.

The truth is that, even if there were no corruption, China’s social security fund would still fall short. A report published this year by the China Research Centre on Ageing forecast that the number of elderly people would top 200 million for the first time, to reach 202 million, or some 14.8 per cent of the population.

[…] At the China Development Forum in March, the newly appointed minister of finance, Lou Jiwei, said there were too many loopholes in China’s administrative systems, including the social security fund. “If we don’t fix these systemic loopholes and put in place good management and the appropriate limits and incentives, no matter how much money we put in, the fund would still be drained,” he said. [Source]


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