weekly blog--one for the ages
From the Washington Post...Han Zicheng was desperate for company. He said his wife had died. His sons were out of touch. His neighbors had kids to raise and elderly parents of their own. He had survived the Japanese invasion, the Chinese civil war and the Cultural Revolution, but he knew he could not endure the sorrow of living alone.
On a chilly day in December, the 85-year-old Chinese grandfather gathered some scraps of white paper and wrote out a pitch in blue ink: “Looking for someone to adopt me,” taped a copy to a bus shelter in his busy neighborhood, and then went home to wait. He also knew he was but one of tens of millions of Chinese growing old without enough support.
Improved living standards and the one-child policy have turned China’s population pyramid upside down. Already, 15 percent of Chinese are older than 60. By 2040, it will be nearly one in four, according to current projections. In 2013, the Chinese government made a law mandating parental visits. In practice, millions of “empty nest” elderly — seniors who don’t live with their spouses or children — have little protection. Children leave. The social safety net is full of holes. Han had tried to find caregivers. This time, a woman saw him taping a note to a store window, snapped a picture and posted it on social media with a plea: “I hope warmhearted people can help.”
At first, Han was hopeful. A local restaurant offered food. A journalist from Hebei province promised to visit. He struck up a telephone friendship with a 20-year-old law student in the south. But his mood soured when he realized the family he imagined would be tough to find. The last weeks of Han’s life were shrouded by stubborn silence and missed calls. After his death, his neighbors and his son were unable or unwilling to shed light on the circumstances of his final days. What is clear is that the system failed him — and that it probably will fail others.
Two weeks after he died, the neighborhood committee that is supposed to keep an eye on residents was surprised by news of his death. Five neighbors said they had noticed his absence in the hallway, but did not check on him.