Yellow ribbons help the elderly call from empty nests in Yanji
Elderly residents of a Korean ethnic community in Northeast China’s Jilin province attach yellow ribbons to their windows, a sign that they need assistance.
At the beginning of her day, Wang Shuqing, chief of the Danying community in Yanji, gets up at 5:30 am to walk around the area.
“I need to check if any ribbons are tied to windows and see what I can do to help,” Wang said.
Yanji, capital of the Yanbian Korean autonomous prefecture, home to the greatest concentration of ethnic Koreans in China, has seen large numbers of its young people leave for the Republic of Korea or China’s eastern and southern regions to seek jobs. The elderly are often left behind, living alone in empty nests.
Yanbian prefecture has an estimated population of 350,000 elderly, and its government is coping with the situation in various ways, including the introduction of the yellow ribbons.
Wang said there are more than 900 empty-nesters, about 10 percent of the residents, in her community.
The elderly may need assistance in their homes or with some shopping. But the yellow ribbons are far from enough, especially when there’s an emergency, Wang said.
Telephones have been modified so that the elderly can contact community workers by pressing a single button.
In rural areas, the situation is more difficult for empty-nest families.
Zheng Mingzi, 79, said she has struggled since her husband died this year, leaving her to endure loneliness as her children live abroad.
In 2009, Yanbian prefecture’s government began building residential courtyards for the elderly in rural villages. People can entertain themselves with games like mahjong or chess, or join singing or dancing groups.
So far, 1,048 such courtyards have been set up across the prefecture.
Hong Qing, the prefecture’s deputy chief, said the government is still facing many problems in coping with the emptynest problem, especially since the elderly population is rising fast.
Statistics from the prefecture show that the elderly population will exceed 500,000 by 2020, a staggering increase from the current 350,000.
“We are trying to improve infrastructure, build associations for the elderly, and use legislation to ensure a more stable and colorful life for empty-nest families,” Hong said.