China for thousands of years was a society based on the core principle of filial piety — respect for one’s elders. But as the country crashes headlong into the 21st century, the old ways are changing. And one 94-year old woman in Changshou District, along the banks of the storied Yangtze River, is paying the painful price of change.
Zhang Zefang was born into abject poverty in 1919 and never overcame it. But along the way, through two marriages, she raised four children. Following the centuries-old tradition, it never occurred to her that her children would not care for her in her old age.
"I never thought about whether my kids would take care of me when I was old," she told a reporter from the Associated Press. "I just focused on taking care of them."
Her eyes well up with tears when she speaks about how, under a new law enacted this July in China, she has been forced to sue her own children to get them to support her, or even visit her.
A Chinese court took her side and ordered one of her adult sons to pay her $10 per month to live on. But he has not given her any money yet. The court ordered the children to take her into their homes, but instead, they physically and emotionally abuse her.
She now lives with her youngest son and his wife. But they keep her confined to an unheated room with just a bucket and no access to a bathroom. Her daughter-in-law constantly bickers with her and contradicts almost every word out of Zhang’s mouth. Zhang says that they pinch and slap her as well.
The new law says that children must support their elderly parents both financially and emotionally. Children are required to visit their aging elders.
But the state cannot legislate how grown-up children behave around their parents, and Zhang (pictured) is suffering for it.
She says that whatever money she had, her children have taken from her. She is totally dependent on them. But in her kids’ eyes, she is an inconvenience at best.
Her daughter-in-law says that Zhang’s story is all lies.
"I'm doing all the laundry! I'm making the bed for her!" she tells the AP reporter.
The adult children — the oldest is 71 — say they cannot afford to care for their mother. They have children of their own and none makes much money. The youngest son takes in $16 per month on a pension and has two pigs and a cow to sell as the only other income for himself and his wife.
Nonetheless, he says, "She's my mom. I have to care for her."
SOURCES: Associated Press, Daily Mail