Zhang Zefang, a 94 year old woman in Fusheng has made international headlines after suing her children for not taking adequate care of her. Her complex family drama personifies the increasingly common problems arising from China’s aging population and breaking up of traditional Chinese family values, the Washington Post reports.
Zhang was born into a farming family and married at 14. After her first husband died of dysentery, she remarried with two daughters. An exemplar of traditional Chinese filial piety, she moved in with her second husband’s parents and cared for them through to old age, surviving “mainly on a thin broth of boiled corn stalks.”
However, after her husband’s death she found her self in the unenviable position of being unwanted or unable to be cared for by her five children due to a combination of distance and poverty. (Her eldest son, a 71 year old is on an 80 yuan a month pension).
Zhang, like this grandmother who was forced to live in her son’s pigsty, had far from ideal living conditions. She was living in her son’s garage and she claims her daughter-in-law frequently beat and abused her. Thus, she turned to the village courts for a solution and was recommended to sue her children, enabling a judge to delegate responsibility for her welfare.
This action, takes advantage of new laws passed last December enabling elderly parents who feel neglected to take their progeny to court. This safeguards traditional confucianism values of filial piety and respect for the elderly. Often, support from one’s children is the only means of survival as state support for the elderly is often inadequate and healthcare is costly for the poor. Although there was some skepticism about the practicability of this legislation, over 1000 parents have already sued their children for neglect.
The outcome of Zhang’s case? She will shuttle between children every four months, with a 60 yuan a month allowance. With China’s aging demography and changing values, cases like hers could become a frequent occurrence.
By Maea Lenei Buhre