China's lonely parents tell of loss of only children as family holiday nears

Fri Dec 27, 2013 5:18am EST
 
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By Grace Li

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Chinese travel far and wide to join their families for the Lunar New Year holiday, but for 60-year-old Xie, whose only child died seven years ago, China's biggest holiday is a reminder that she faces old age with little in the way of financial support.

Her daughter, Juanjuan, was 29 when she died, leaving her parents in the ranks of China's more than a million "shidu" families, or those who have lost their only child, in a country where parents have traditionally relied on their children to look after them in old age.

"We Chinese always consider the child as the most important thing. If the child is gone, the whole family breaks down," said Xie, a retired senior technician living in southeastern Jiangxi province, who declined to give her full name to protect her family's privacy.

Many shidu parents are victims of China's strict family planning policy, which since the late 1970s has restricted most families to one child, and have stepped up calls for compensation.

China says the policy has averted 400 million births, preventing the population from spiraling out of control. But now it plans to ease the restrictions, fearing that they are undermining economic growth and contributing to a rapidly ageing population the country has no hope of supporting financially.

On Thursday, the National Health and Family Planning Commission announced an increase in compensation for shidu couples - although it failed to raise much cheer ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday, or Spring Festival, at the end of January.

TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE

Couples in which the woman is 49 or older will get 340 yuan ($56) per person each month if they live in a city and 170 yuan if they live in the countryside from next year. Shidu parents had demanded 3,150 yuan per person each month.   Continued...

 
51 year-old Tian Lianpu, father of the late Tian Yao, born in August 1990 and died in January 2012 of lymphoma, looks at his mobile phone as he drinks tea at home in Beijing, December 26, 2013. REUTERS/Jason Lee