Saturday, November 04, 2006

China's Young People Leaving the Countryside

Rush for Wealth in China’s Cities Shatters the Ancient Assurance of Care in Old Age
BAODENG, China — If having children is a mark of wealth, Gao Shenmu and Wang Xiuying, a farming couple in their 70s, surely rank as rich.

They raised six children in this rolling, fertile countryside before China imposed its single-child policy. What’s more, as the cities of the distant east flourished and boomed, three of their four sons migrated along with millions of others, landing jobs and joining the cash economy.

But for just that reason, their very Chinese dream of security in old age, built on the next generation’s obligation to them, has badly foundered.

The sons moved, but they left their own two young children behind to be cared for. They rarely visit and collectively send just $30 or $40 a year home. Mr. Gao and Ms. Wang make do at harvest time, spending two weeks in backbreaking labor that once took them less than a week to perform.

The couple’s experience is increasingly commonplace. The chief of their hamlet put its predicament this way: “Knock on 10 doors, and 9 of them will be opened by old people.”

And across much of the Chinese countryside the situation is the same, with villages emptied of their working-age populations, leaving behind small children and grandparents.


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