Monday, July 14, 2008

"Filial piety" important in China, and for Chinese Americans

The AARP Bulletin of July/August 2008 discusses filial responsibility in China. On p 16, and article by Dan Levin, “Tradition Under Stress” discusses the issue as it is in China now, where it is called "filial piety" (or "xiao shun") and has long been established in Chinese culture. Chinese capitalism and the “one child per family” policy may be making this more difficult, as young people move away to the cities for jobs. In China, the ratio of workers to “retirees” will decrease from 20:1 around 1980 to 2.5:1 by 2020.

The article says that China has no equivalent to American social security and Medicare, although limited social security is becoming available. Relatively few older urban citizens have significant citizens. In China, it is often a source of shame to put a parent into a nursing home. But the home health industry is booming.

The culture of filial piety also is common with Chinese Americans. However, descendants of Chinese immigrants have tended to migrate toward the nuclear family rather than extended family. William Poy Lee has an article “Under one roof: Chinese Americans and filial piety.” On the AARP Bulletin website, there is a 5-minute video about Lee (and his mother Poy Jen Lee) directed by Nick Francis, called “Aging in China” at this URL. Lee says that he asked his mother to come live with him but she first declined. In Chinese culture, ancestors are revered and considered valued just for that fact of being elders (who had and raised families), whereas they are not always viewed that way in “me generation” Western culture.

Ted Koppel mentioned filial piety (without mentioning it directly) in the second installment of his Discovery Channel film “The Peoples Republic of Capitalism,” which was “From Maoism to Meism” in discussing the gay community in China, where he said that gay men feel they will have to “go back in the closet” to have a wife and one child and be able to take care of their parents later in life.

The Lee video took the viewpoint that American culture used to value the extended family, at least before World War II. Notions of filial responsibility dwindled as Congress first passed social security in the 1930s and then Medicare in 1965. But Medicare does not cover custodial care, and 28 states in the US have filial responsibility laws (or “poor laws”), even as they are not often enforced, except in Medicaid “look back” situations with regard to pre-viatical distributions to heirs. .

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