Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : October 13th 2013 Contents A53
October 13, 2013 www.guardian.co.tt Sunday Guardian
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FUSHENG---As the daughter-in-
law rolls open the rusted doors to
her garage, light spills onto a small
figure on a straw mattress. A curi-
ous face peers out.
It s the face of Kuang Shiying s
known as the little old lady who
sued her own children for not taking
care of her.
The drama playing out inside this
house reflects a wider and increas-
ingly urgent dilemma. The world s
population is aging fast, due to
longer life spans and lower birth
rates, and there will soon be more
old people than young for the first
time in history. This has left families
and governments struggling to
decide: Who is responsible for the
care of the elderly?
A few countries, such as India,
Singapore, France and Ukraine, now
require adult children to financially
support their parents. Twenty-nine
US states have similar laws, though
they are rarely enforced because the
government provides aid.
In China, where family loyalty is
a cornerstone of society, more than
1,000 parents have sued their chil-
dren for financial support over the
last 15 years. But in December, the
government went further, amending
its elder care law to require that
children also support their parents
emotionally. Children who don t
visit their parents can be sued--- by
mom and dad.
The law pits the expectations of
society against the complexities of
family, and begs the question: How
do you legislate love?
Zhang Zefang, with her thin
frame and soft smile, hardly looks
like the vindictive matriarch many
assume she must be. She is one of
about 3,800 people in the village
of Fusheng in southwest China,
where the pace is slow and the
But inside Kuang and Zhang s
home, there is war. Resentment
hangs in the air, acrid and sharp
like the stench from the urine-filled
bucket next to Zhang s bed. This is
the epicenter of a family feud that
erupted amid accusations of lying,
of ungratefulness, of abuse and neg-
lect and broken promises.
"I never thought about whether
my kids would take care of me when
I was old," Zhang says. "I just
focused on taking care of them."
Inside her room, there is no heat,
no window to the outside world.
From the shadows, she begins to
It used to be in China that the
idea of filial piety, or honouring
your parents, was instilled from
birth. A Chinese proverb calls filial
piety "the first among 100 virtues,"
and the ancient philosopher Con-
fucius credited it as the bedrock of
social harmony. As a 2008 bulletin
from the US aging advocacy group
AARP said: "For thousands of years,
filial piety was China s Medicare,
Social Security and long-term care,
all woven into a single family virtue."
This is the world Zhang was born
into, on August 15, 1919. She mar-
ried at 14, but her husband died of
Her second husband was too poor
to support her, so they moved in
with his parents. That s when her
nightmare truly began.
"She s not making sense!" Kuang
Zhang barely acknowledges her
daughter-in-law s insult. In fact,
she barely acknowledges her at all.
Kuang hovers over her mother-in-
law, interjecting constant critiques:
Zhang is messing up the story,
Zhang cannot remember a detail,
even if she is in the midst of deliv-
Zhang tries to remember her age
when her first husband died....24?
"Don t make up nonsense!"
Kuang says, voice rising. "It was
22! It was 22!"
Zhang is crying. Her father-in-
law, she says, was a gambling addict
with a violent temper. Yet Zhang
never considered leaving---that
would have made her a social out-
cast. Three decades later, her hus-
band died, leaving her at the mercy
of her offspring. But the world had
Zhang murmurs that she wants
to say something, but is afraid to
talk in front of her daughter-in-
law. Kuang steps outside and Zhang
says that her family locks her in
this room all day. She dares not
scream for help for fear she will be
beaten. She pinches her cheek hard,
slaps a visitor s arm. That s what
they do to me, she says.
Her bones ache. Her feet ache.
The stench from the toilet bucket
sickens her. All she wants is to go
to a nursing home, she says. But
the few nursing homes in China
supply only 22 beds for every 1,000
seniors, and most families can t
Zhang Zefang now temporarily
lives with her eldest son, Mingde,
as the court ordered.
Her new home is crowded with
clutter and complaints. Mingde frets
about the cost of medical care. A
frustrated Yinxi cries. Zhang stares
vacantly at the ground as she talks.
"I just wish I could die." (AP)
In aging China, old woman sues children for care
Zhang Zefang, a 94-year-old woman who sued her own children for not
taking care of her, sits on her bed at her home in Fusheng Village, east of
Chongqing City, China on March 19. Zhang is among a growing group of
elderly Chinese who have resorted to suing their children in a desperate
bid for care. AP PHOTO
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