While there's no place like home, home does look a little different now. Certainly, visiting Beijing and attempting to make generalizations about China is akin to visiting Chicago and generalizing to all of the United States; and Chicago reflects very little of the life here in the Flint Hills of Kansas! Yet, reflections on the experience do bring up points to ponder.
The commonality of the problems to the aging challenge are astounding. What is also astounding, and a little discouraging, is that there also seems to be a commonality in the lack of adequate solutions. China does have an opportunity to craft new policy and programs, but, at least as outlined during the seminar workshops and visits, there are obvious gaps and deficits. It seems that while the Chinese do believe that the government has a social responsibility to its citizens, this responsibility is carried only to a certain point, in light of the reforms to a type of market economy and other social policies. Particularly disturbing was the open way many of the presenters discussed the breakdown of traditions in children caring for older adults. The government is strongly encouraging Family Support Contracts: a legal document that outlines what children will provide for their parents. Can you legislate family caregiving? And if you can...should you?
The absolute sheer numbers and enormity of what they face in China is overwhelming. One older person of every four will be 80+ years of age in 40 years, and China will have 25% of the world's 60+ population in 2030. No wonder adequate solutions are hard to come by. Embedded in these numbers is the apparent disparity in urban and rural populations in China. From differing health insurance plans to lower levels of education and the abandonment of older adults by their children in rural areas, it may be that the urban older adult programs seen in Beijing are not yet an option for rural older adults.
China is an interesting mixture of tradition, technology, and a changing social and economic system. Perhaps they can learn from our past mistakes and successes, and perhaps we can learn from their current ones as we plan a more hopeful old age for our citizens.
Please go to www.aging.ksu.edu, global aging, photo album, for pictures of the seminar!