A CHINESE court has forced an interesting question upon a country that is quite apparently losing touch with some its most heartfelt traditions. Can you make children respect their elders by force of law?
Earlier this week the court, in Wuxi, ruled in favour of a 77-year-old woman who had sued her daughter for not visiting her parents and for failing to provide them with financial assistance. This case marks first major test of China’s newly enacted “Elderly Rights Law.”
Confucian traditions notwithstanding, this is a country where the largest mass migration in human history is taking place everywhere at once, with tens of millions of people on the move and working, often quite far from home. The law will prove quite difficult to enforce.
Hou Yang, a 40-year-old hotel manager in Beijing, explains the problem. He hails from Hainan, China’s southern tropical-island province. His hometown is 1,700 miles away from the capital, a flight that costs him more than four hours, and great expense too. Visiting his parents on a regular basis is not practical or possible.
“I don’t think I will be punished by law if I don’t go back home often,” Mr Hou said. “In my opinion, this new law is pretty hard to enforce because ‘visiting elderly people often’ is a kind of emotional comfort. It cannot be forced by law. Not everyone can do it well.”
“I think it is stupid and useless for government to come up with this kind of law without providing supporting policies,” Mr Hou added. “For example, if they want us go back home often, they should give us more days of leave, or reimburse our travel expenses.”
The Wuxi case might well make some members of the younger generations think twice about skipping their annual visits home at Chinese New Year. But a rash of fines and court decisions against errant children seems unlikely.