Monday, September 3, 2012, 00:00

Filial piety does not need a code

By Wang Yiqing

Filial piety does not need a code

Almost all Chinese will agree that filial piety is a cultural trait that should be adhered to, and the old saying, Filial piety is the first among 100 virtues, will be never out of date in Chinese society. Then why has the new code of conduct for filial piety issued by the office of the National Committee for senior citizen affairs created a controversy?

Adult children, according to the code of conduct, are required to do 24 things for their parents in their daily life. By recommending these everyday actions, the authorities paint a vivid picture of a caring middle class family: Adult children are emotionally close to their parents and satisfy their economic and emotional needs by supporting them financially, visiting them frequently and spending more leisure time with them. This is a wonderful picture of a really harmonious family and most of us long for it. But a majority of Chinese would say : Are we all part of this wonderful picture?

Responding to an online survey conducted by a newspaper and a website in Henan province, only 16.9 percent people said they met the basic requirements of the code. It would mean that more than 80 percent of the respondents dont (or dont want to) take care of their elderly parents. But we know that is not true. Experience tells us that lack of money and time prevents most of the people from meeting the requirements of the filial code of conduct.

Unlike the older generation, youngsters today attend schools and universities, and work and live in places far away from their parents homes. It is difficult (at times practically impossible) for many of them to visit their parents regularly because of the distance, limited number of holidays and pressure of work or studies.

Moreover, a large number of youths in cities are struggling to make a living despite possessing college diplomas. According to a study carried out by sociologist Lian Si, by the end of 2011 big Chinese cities were home to at least 3 million ant tribes (low-income graduates living poverty-level existence in big cities). Such people can hardly make ends meet. So how can they provide financial support for their parents, let alone visit them frequently, buy them insurance or take them on holidays?

But ant tribes are people who are likely to become part of the middle class. Then what about the real low-income group?

Last year, 158.63 million people had been working away from their hometowns for more than six months, according to National Bureau of Statistics figures, and a majority of them were young adults with parents to support. Many low-income people find it hard to meet even one of the code of conducts requirements despite their best efforts, though supporting their parents is one of the main reasons many migrant workers shift to cities. That doesnt make such people any less filial than others.

Parents of low-income people, especially in the countryside, need endowments and proper healthcare rather than the code-recommended luxurious recreations like surfing the Internet and going on holidays.

There is every reason to believe that filial piety is deeply rooted in a majority of Chinese peoples hearts. It is part of Chinese cultural tradition of loving the person who loves you. The good intention of the authorities who drew up the code to promote filial piety are not to be doubted. But a code of conduct that a majority of people cannot follow, albeit for genuine reasons, deserves a rethink.

The code only contains detailed actions and is silent on common standards. The best way to determine whether a person is filial or not is to know what his/her parents feel about him/her. All these make the code an unrealistic portrayal of ideal middle class families in todays fast-changing society.

Without material and official support, common people cannot meet the requirements of the filial code of conduct even if they want to. Faced with the challenge of an aging society, authorities have to help individuals in their efforts to take care of their elderly parents.

The author is a writer with China Daily.