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Filial Piety, Where Art Thou? Debate on Care for Elderly Parents Reignited

An elderly couple forced to sleep outside their son’s door has reignited the debate over how China’s young cares for its elderly. As of May 1st, Shanghai residents who do not regularly visit their parents will be punished by getting black marks on their credit scores.

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An elderly couple forced to sleep outside their son’s door has reignited the debate over how China’s younger generations care for their elderly parents. As of May 1st, Shanghai residents who do not regularly visit their parents will be punished by getting black marks on their credit scores.

For 77-year-old Zhu Sulan and her husband, life is anything but peaceful. The elderly couple has been sleeping in the hallway outside their son’s apartment for days, after he refused to take them in. In what can be termed an absurd situation, the son has been missing from his home and apparently stayed elsewhere until his parents go away. In the meanwhile, the frail couple has set up their temporary shelter in the hallway, refusing to move until their son takes them in.

The old couple’s misfortune began when their eldest son (aged 26) lost his house due to demolition. Mrs. Zhu and her husband were then asked to stay with their other son. Since their arrival, their son’s refusal to take them in has left them with no other option than to stay outside his door. The couple has four sons and one daughter who all turn a blind eye despite knowing the condition their parents are in. Additionally, according to Shanghaiist‘s Kitty Lai, Mrs. Zhu revealed that their children have been engaged in a bitter dispute over ownership of three apartments registered in their parent’s names.

Filial piety? Never heard of it!

In the recent past, a growing number of incidents have highlighted cases of neglect and lack of respect from children towards their elderly parents in China. A Chinese farmer named Chen Shoutian from Guanyun County in Jiangsu province, came under attack in 2012 for keeping his 100-year-old mother in a pigsty for two years.

sad_momMum in the trunk of the car, via Shanghaiist.

A certain Mr. Liu was branded ‘Public enemy No.1‘ in 2015 for putting his old mother in the trunk of the car to give his son more room to stretch his legs in the backseat. It was revealed that the car was bought by the old lady for her son with her life savings.

The virtue of filial piety

For a country that still values Communism, China has managed to preserve many of its old traditions and cultural practices, chief among them being the virtue of filial piety. Xiao (孝) or filial piety, a virtue of respect for one’s father, elders, and ancestors, is an important part of the Confucian vision of societal harmony. According to Confucian tradition, the Five Relations that are central to society are those:

• Between the ruler and the people
• Husband and wife
• Father and son
• Elder brother and younger brother
• Older friend and younger friend.

These hierarchical relationships have set the precedent on which relations and communities in China were built. Along with a changing China, these patterns are now changing too.

State-led filial piety campaign

China’s rapid urbanization has altered structures of the traditional joint family unit. China’s younger generations are dynamic, ambitious and ready to leave their hometowns for greener pastures. The PRC’s large-scale rural-to-urban migration has led to a growing number of Chinese elderly who are not supported or cared for by their children.

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Statistics from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in 2013 estimated that China had around 200 million Chinese over the age of 60 years, accounting for 14.8% of the total population. By 2050, the projection shows a rise up to 438 million or one-third of the total population.

Following China’s growing problem of an ageing population, the government passed the law called “Protection of the Rights and Interests of Elderly People” law in 2013. According to New York Times, the law has nine clauses laying out the duties of children and their obligations to tend to the “spiritual needs of the elderly”. Along with some vague measures, concrete steps have also been initiated like providing a basic living and medical care for the elderly through the pension and healthcare scheme.

Already since 2011, the Party has been making efforts to promote the values of filial piety; the “special committee of filial piety” then announced its training program aimed to help 1 million children between the ages of 4 and 6 learn about filial piety through stories and games. Volunteers would check the children’s performance over three years to ensure they internalized the values. The programme caused a lot of commotion with some voicing support for the training, and others dismissing it as a silly exercise that overemphasized parent’s authority and turned children into robots.

The state-led campaign for filial piety was taken to the next level in April 2016 when Shanghai’s Municipal People’s Congress announced new regulations to encourage people to frequently visit elderly parents and ensure they are cared for; Shanghai residents who fail to visit their elderly parents regularly may have their names added to a credit blacklist that could make it difficult for them to apply for jobs and loans, and even impact their eligibility for welfare. The regulations will take effect on May 1st of this year.

Time will tell if the official promotion of filial values will really help solve the issue of changing dynamics in China’s elderly care today.

“What if your parents are abusive alcoholics?”

The topic became a point of discussion on Chinese social media. Most netizens disagreed that children should keep on visiting their parents no matter the circumstances. “If your parents did not look after you when they were younger,” one netizen comments: “you can now treat them the same, right?”.

“But what if your parents are abusive alcoholics? What if they forced their daughter into marriage because of their own gambling debts? What if she suffered long-term sexual abuse by the father?” one other Weibo user wondered.

Others complained about the fact that there was simply no time to see their family: “Only for Chinese New Year’s we get 15 days off, and then we are supposed to see our parents and enjoy our holiday and for the rest there is no other free time to do anything but working overtime, working overtime, working overtime!”

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Another Weibo user clearly opposes the new law: “This society obviously does not have the right social environment for the joy and happiness of family life, but still the government requires people to act this way. I really don’t know why the government always wants to oppose to what people want; our lives are already tiresome, and not very free, okay ? Why would you add to this by implementing some strange regulations that further limit us?”

– By Mahalakshmi Ganapathy

Weibo comments & editing by Manya Koetse.
Image by Qianzhan News.

©2016 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

About the author: Mahalakshmi Ganapathy is a Shanghai-based Sinologist-to-be, pursuing her graduate degree in Chinese Politics at East China Normal University. Her interests include Sino-India comparative studies and Chinese political philosophy.

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China Food & Drinks

Coca Cola Introduces “Ocean Plastic Bottles” to Combat Marine Waste Problem

Coca Cola’s innovative ocean plastic bottles have become top trending on Weibo.

Manya Koetse

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As Coca Cola introduced the world’s first bottles made from recycled ocean plastic waste this week, the topic has risen to the top trending on China’s Sina Weibo.

As reported by Business Insider, Coca Cola has released 300 sample bottles showing the potential of its new technology that is able to transform lower-grade recycables into high-quality food packages.

The Coca Cola bottles were produced using 25% recycled marine waste, collected by volunteers and fishermen during 84 beach cleanups in Spain and Portugal, the report says, with the company’s long-term goal being to have all its plastic bottles be made from 50% recycled plastics by 2030.

Coca Cola will start to use more recycled plastic for its bottles from 2020 on.

With the topic now having reached 140 million views on Weibo, many people are discussing the issue. The majority of commenters applaud the environment-friendly initiative, but there are also some who say they fear the bottles would somehow contain “more pollutants” or start to “taste like the ocean.”

Others write they do not necessarily want to drink Coca Cola, but would like to obtain one of their ‘ocean plastic’ bottles as a collector’s item.

The Chinese news reports about the new Coca Cola initiative raise awareness on the problems of how plastic waste in oceans jeopardizes marine life.

“Environmental problems require immediate action,” one Weibo users writes: “A good company will take on the responsibility to do something.”

Some 200 billion plastic bottles are sold in China every year – many of them are already being recycled. Coca Cola, however, will reportedly be the world’s first company to use ocean plastic waste for its bottles.

Coca Cola is an important player in the Chinese beverage market; the company has introduced more than 60 products under 20 brands within mainland China.

Also read:

McDonald’s China Introduces Cola Chicken on Its Menu

Coca Cola in China: “Not a Single Bottle of Coke Should Be Sold to Chinese”

Ginger Coca-Cola Comes to China with Some Smart Yin Yang Marketing

 

By Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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Over a Third of China’s Babies Are Delivered via C-Section – The National Health Commission Wants to Change That

Fear of pain is a major reason for nonmedical cesarian deliveries on maternal request.

Manya Koetse

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Image by Sohu News

China’s National Health Commission wants to lower the nation’s high C-section rates. On Chinese social media, many women argue it should be up to the mother to decide how she wants to give birth.

In 2018 the percentage of deliveries by cesarean was 36.7% in mainland China, according to the latest Report on Women’s & Children’s Health (中国妇幼健康事业发展报告) that was launched by the National Health Commission on May 27.

This means that together with Hong Kong, Taiwan, Brazil, Egypt, and Turkey, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) now has the highest C-section rates in the world.

A World Health Organization report from 2010 estimated that 46% of Chinese babies were delivered via C-section. In 2017, another study found that this percentage was incorrect, although some urban and wealthier regions in China, such as Shanghai, did see C-section (CS) rates as a high as 68% (Black & Bhattacharya 2018, 1; McNeil 2017).

China’s CS rates have recently become a hot topic in Chinese newspapers and on social media. On May 27, the National Health Commission of the People’s Republic of China held a Beijing news conference in which Qin Geng (秦耕), the director, announced that more actions will be taken to encourage natural childbirth among Chinese women.

Qin Geng during the press conference on May 27.

These actions will, among others, include stricter regulation of cesarian section operations and the provision of more support and pain relief for laboring women, as well as a higher hospital income for natural births. The National Health Comission hopes to significantly reduce the number of unneccesssary C-sections without medical indication in this way (Beijing News 2019; Caijing 2019).

Since 1985, the international healthcare community has considered 10-15% to be “the ideal rate” for C-sections, of which the highest percentage are those CS deliveries with medical indications that can actually save the lives of mothers and babies.

Although the worldwide rates for CS deliveries have increased throughout the years, there is no evidence for the benefits of nonmedically indicated C-sections for women or children, according to the World Health Organization.

This is not the first time Chinese authorities try to combat the country’s high CS rates. After reports by the World Health Organization from 2010 and 2015 pointing out the potential hazards of unnecessary C-sections, there have been various state efforts to reduce the number of nonmedical cesarian surgeries.

Besides the introduction of free prenatal education classes, these efforts included monitoring public hospital CS rates and removing bonuses or cutting portions of a hospital’s income once their CS rates reached a certain threshold (e.g. 40%) (Wang 2017, 3). These government initiatives seem to have had effect: the country’s C-section growth rates have slowed down, but were not decreasing yet.

Since the Chinese government announced an end to its one-child policy in 2015, lowering cesarean sections rates has become a more urgent matter, as Chinese couples are now allowed to have a second child.

Although various studies from mainland China and beyond challenge the idea that nonmedical C-sections are less ‘safe’ than vaginal births for single deliveries, this risk changes when a woman who previously had a CS section plans another pregnancy: multiple cesarean sections are associated with additional risks including CS scar rupture and abnormal placental invasion (Biler et al 2017, 1074; Black & Bhattacharya 2018, 2; Liu et al 2015, 817).

 

Why So Many C-sections in China?

 

But why does China have such a high cesarian delivery rate at all? Since the early 1990s, mainland China saw a more dramatic rise in CS rates than, for example, the USA; from less than 10% (with only 3.4% in 1988), China went to one of the highest in the world (Hellerstein 2011; Wolf 2018, 13).

The answer to why this is, is not so straightforward and relates to socio-economic changes as well as cultural factors that come into play.

One reason is that there is a general belief in the ‘safety’ of cesarian births that influence women’s choices for a (nonmedical and planned) C-section (Black & Bhattacharya 2017, 2).

An insightful study into this matter is that of researcher Eileen Wang (2017), who found that anxiety about giving birth and fear of pain is also a major reason for nonmedical cesarian deliveries on maternal request, especially considering that only a minority of Chinese women are given any form of pain relief during labor. Besides traditional concepts, this is also because China faces a shortage of anesthetists and because obstetricians are not always well-informed to prescribe other forms of pain medication (2017, 5).

As noted by Wang, epidurals are denied to laboring women not just because anesthesiologists are too busy, but also because of various other factors: different from a scheduled C-section on their agenda, they are not always available during nighttimes and in weekends to administer anesthesia to women in labor, do not have the time to monitor a patient for hours during labor (whereas a cesarean could be done in an hour), or were not even trained to administer epidurals (2017, 5).

“Giving labor without pain: removing mom’s fear for giving birth” – image by Chinese website http://www.8bb.com/huaiyun/1381.html.

According to Wang, the concerns about labor pain result in more requests for C-sections, both before and during labor. With relatively low awareness and availability of labor pain relief methods many Chinese women simply opt for a C-section as a way to control their pain.

But there are also other factors that contribute to the relatively high rate of women requesting C-sections for nonmedical reasons. One of them is the importance placed in the astrological calendar: having a baby on that one ‘lucky day’ or within that ‘lucky year’ is considered enough reason to plan a cesarian birth for many Chinese families.

In early 2015, ahead of the Chinese New Year, many women rushed to the hospital to make sure their baby was born in the Year of the Horse (2014) as the Year of the Goat (2015) was coming up. There is an old Chinese saying that nine out of ten people born in the Year of the Goat are incomplete and will suffer from great misfortune throughout their life (“十羊九不全”).

Another factor that leads to more cesareans on maternal request relates to the existing concerns among women that vaginal delivery will affect their figure or sex life (Wang 2017, 2).

 

Responses on Chinese Social Media

 

Since the Beijing news conference of May 27, the hashtag “Reducing Unnecessary Cesarean Section Surgery” (#减少非必需剖宫产手术#) has taken off on Chinese social media.

On Weibo, the hashtag page received 340 million views at time of writing. One thread about this topic even received over 28400 comments.

“What do you call ‘unnecessary cesarian’?” one of the most popular comments said: “Isn’t it that so many women in labor choose to have a C-section because natural childbirth is too painful?”

Other commenters also called for a normalization of pain relief in labor, saying that the high percentage of C-sections lies in the fact that Chinese women lack access to “wútòng fēnmiǎn” (无痛分娩) or “painless birth,” meaning vaginal delivery with pain relief.

Some Weibo users also stress that women should have the freedom of choice on how they wish to give birth, saying: “C-section or natural should be my own choice” and “If you leave me no choice I might as well not give birth at all.”

Multiple commenters write: “The lower the C-section rate, the higher the suicides,” referring to an incident that occurred in Shaanxi in 2017 when a pregnant woman committed suicide by jumping from the fifth floor of the hospital after she was allegedly denied a CS delivery.

Other Chinese netizens also complain about the fact that it seems to be men who are promoting the new policies to combat the high C-section rates, writing: “Isn’t there a way to have them suffer the pain of labor instead?”

In her study, scholar Eileen Wang also argues that the lack of pain relief is one of the major issues that should be addressed by policymakers who are hoping to reduce the number of C-sections in China. Further improving the childbirth experience by, for example, integrating a midwifery model, is also essential in making natural childbirth more attractive for Chinese women, Wang argues.

For now, many hospitals in China are still offering C-section “packages”: some prices start at RMB 5800 ($840) for a C-section, other hospitals have packages that start from RMB 88,000 ($12,741) including a three-day hospital stay in a private room.

“It’s a pregnant’s woman body, so she should decide how she wants to deliver her baby,” one commenter on Weibo writes: “It should be a woman’s right to decide.”

By Manya Koetse

References

Biler, A., Ekin, A., Ozcan, A., Inan, A. H., Vural, T., & Toz, E. 2017. “Is It Safe to Have Multiple Repeat Cesarean Sections? A High Volume Tertiary Care Center Experience.” Pakistan Journal of Medical Sciences 33(5): 1074–1079.

Black, Mairead & Sohinee Bhattacharya. 2018. “Cesarean Section in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong— A Safe Choice for Women and Clinicians?” PLOS Medicine 15(10): 1-3.

Caijing. 2019. “卫健委:全国剖宫产率为36.7% 积极推广分娩镇痛.” Caijing , May 27 http://economy.caijing.com.cn/20190527/4591594.shtml [5.31.19].

Hellerstein, Susan Celia. 2011. “Cesarean Delivery in China Analysis of Cesarean Deliveries Without Indication.” The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: 20s.

McNeil, Donald. 2017. “Study Finds Lower, but Still High, Rate of C-Sections in China.” New York Times, Jan 9 https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/09/health/c-section-births-china.html [6.2.19].

Wang, Eileen. 2017. “Requests for Cesarean Deliveries: The Politics of Labor Pain and Pain Relief in Shanghai, China.” Social Science and Medicine (173): 1–8.

WHO. 2015. “WHO statement on caesarean section rates.” World Health Organization, April https://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/maternal_perinatal_health/cs-statement/en/ [6.2.19].

Wolf, Jacqueline H. 2018. Cesarean Section – An American History of Risk, Technology, and Consequence. Baltimore, Maryland: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Featured image by Sohu News.

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