China’s legislating of filial duties

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China’s legislating of filial duties


“Those who live far away from elderly parents should go home often or attend to their parents’ well-being,” a new Chinese law reads. It may sound like a lesson from Confucius or a sentence from an ethics textbook, but it’s actually Clause 2 of Article 18 of the new Elderly Rights Law, which took effect starting July 1 in China.

According to the People’s Daily, the law requires companies to accept their workers’ request to take leave to see their parents who live far away. It’s institutionalization of filial affection. The Chinese are probably the first in the world to force filial affection - a voluntary and moral virtue - by a compulsory and forcible measure.

China is the birthplace of Confucianism, which is based on loyalty and filial piety. So what triggered China to establish such a law? There have been recent frequent reports about children who neglected their elderly parents and subsequent social problems. It is the cold reality of rapid industrialization.

To counter the social changes, the Communist Party of China has promoted the Confucian values of loyalty and filial piety for the last few years. They were included in school curriculums and adopted as pillars of the nation’s philosophy. But establishing ethical values appears to be far more difficult than adopting a law.

When you look at the law closely, however, it has few teeth to force children to visits to their parents. It doesn’t state the punishment for a violation or how often a child must visit.

The Associated Press surveyed the older and younger generation in China about the law. A 57-year-old janitor from Shanghai was excited by it. “It’s better to have the law than not have one,” he said. Though he meets his child, who works in the southern province of Guangdong, once a year, he could see him maybe twice a year from now on.

The younger generation, however, reacted coldly. A 36-year-old university professor of Jiangsu Province said the law was unreasonable, as it puts too much pressure on those who moved far away from their homes in search of jobs and freedom. He said that visiting parents is both costly and difficult.

The situation may not just be a case for China. Korea seems to be no different. And the problem is what will happen when the law marches into the territory of morality. A follow-up measure similar to that of “Big Brother” could be created by installing a time card or a CCTV in front of the parents’ house to make sure their children visit them. There’s no guarantee that laws won’t be created to force love between spouses and faith between friends.

It’s common sense that a law must provide the least-needed restraint. Filial affection is a matter of ethics and morality, while the elderly issue needs to be resolved by the government and society. That is the lesson for Korea.

*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

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