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4 Sep, 2015

Xinhua Insight: Challenges, opportunities seen in China’s aging population

BEIJING, Aug. 31 (Xinhua) — When looking for a balance between independence and health care in later life, China’s older generation must navigate an under-developed, overwhelmed sector.

Many Chinese believe it is the responsibility of children to care for their aging parents, and often grandparents, too. In some cases, those that put their elderly relatives into nursing homes are looked down on for shirking their filial responsibility.

At the end of 2014, there were 212 million Chinese, or 15.5 percent of the population, aged 60 or above. This is expected to increase by around 10 million every year.

Vice Minister of Civil Affairs Zou Ming said China is getting old before getting rich and the care industry is under prepared. With a rapidly aging population and many people leaving their hometowns in search of work, suitable elderly care options must be found.

There is, however, a silver-haired lining as both the government and the private sector seek to develop viable solutions.


Nursing homes in China are beset by a myriad problems. A fire at a care home in Henan Province, central China, in May claimed the lives of 38 of its elderly residents, causing many to question the standards of elderly-care centers.

Care homes are also struggling with staff shortages. By the end of 2015the government predicts that there will be 30 beds for every 1,000 seniors. While there are 290,000 nurses that specialize in geriatric nursing spread out across the whole country. Even if every nurse cared for three disabled seniors, there would still be 10 million seniors with no caregiver.

The central government is championing home-based care and services for those that do not need the support of special facilities.

In 2013, the State Council, China’s cabinet, issued a guideline calling for the incorporation of home-based care, community support and nursing resources.

Luan Bingmai, 73, is one of more than 3,000 seniors in Tianjin to benefit from this government initiative. After her health took a turn for the worst a few years ago, she found herself unable to complete her daily chores. So she signed up for in-home help, and now gets meals delivered to her doorstep by the staff of a care home.

In addition, the elderly population of Tianjin can receive health care, medication and consultation, all in the comfort of their own homes.

According to the government guideline, home-based care should be a fundamental part of the elderly care system.

Nursing facilities and care homes should be the last resort, said Gao Yunxia from China Philanthropy Research Institute. Government-run nursing homes should give priority to the poor, the disabled and those of advanced age, she added.

Although government financial support has been steady over the past few years, the vice minister acknowledged that more private funding is needed to ensure seniors “live happy, long lives and gracefully grow old.”

The migration of tens of millions of farmers to the cities has exacerbated the problem, leaving many elderly people without the usual family-support structure. The predicament these farmers face is that once they become too old to work the land, they lose their only source of income.

In Qingdao in Shandong Province, east China, residents have begun to transfer their land rights to a village cooperative in return for elderly care.

The investor, Huang Duwei said he planned to use the land to grow vegetables and rear livestock on a large scale. “The money we make will be invested into a nursing home for the people that once worked the land.”

Gao Liping, a researcher with Shandong Academy of Social Sciences, said this project would help many of the countryside’s left-behind people, who have no pension to support them in old age.

The city is also offering insurance to farmers that will provide a financial cushion should their health deteriorate.