Freedom to marry
In China, many adult children forbid their widowed parents to remarry
Adult children of single seniors are concerned that they may lose their inheritance to their parents’ new spouse
Many new elderly couples are compromising with cohabitation because of their children’s opposition to their marriage
China’s senior population is expected to reach 248 million by 2020
Chinese parents are notorious for their persistence when it comes to pushing their adult children into marriage. But when they themselves are the ones seeking a spouse, their children are far less enthusiastic about their prospects in the marriage market.
Chen, a 71-year-old widower in Nanning, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, lost his wife four years ago. Feeling lonely, he sought a partner to spend his autumn years with. But he did not expect that his new-found bachelorhood would encounter such strong resistance from his three adult children: a daughter and two sons.
Failing to win the support of his own offspring, Chen dared not propose to an elderly woman he had recently met. Instead, he and the woman, surnamed Lu, agreed to cohabitate in order to fulfill their mutual need for companionship.
Many elderly men and women in China would find Chen’s experience relevant. According to statistics from a matchmaking agency in Jiangxi Province, over 80 percent of single senior citizens who were once married hope to get married again. Sadly, more than 60 percent of them fail to receive any moral support from their children.
Reluctant to offend their children, Chen and Lu’s decision to cohabitate is becoming a popular compromise among those elderly who also find themselves in this dilemma.
Prior to moving in with Lu, Chen spent many months arguing and negotiating with his adult children about remarrying. But as his youngest son is his self-professed favorite, and whose opinion he cares the most about, Chen held back from doing the “troublesome” thing.
“It is not that we don’t understand him, or we are not filial. But he is over 70. Isn’t he leading his children into trouble?” said the junior Chen. “After marriage they must live together and there must be quarrels over dividing the property. I don’t have time to handle these things.”
Chen complained to Modern Life Daily that every time he raised the subject with his youngest son, he was persuaded out of the idea. “They don’t know that I’m lonely. They all have their own families and I live alone in an old apartment. I cannot rely on them if I get sick or something. My deceased wife would have agreed, so I don’t know why he cannot accept it,” said Chen.
Chen recalled a recent experience he had with sunstroke. At that time, he felt languid and could not move at all. He phoned his children, but they were busy. It was Lu who showed up to tend to him “If I had to wait for my children to get off work that day before they could pour me a glass of water, I would have thirst t
“We are filial and will not leave him alone uncared for ... We can find him a nanny or ask his neighbors to look after him, then all his worries will be solved.” Nanning resident Chen dismisses his father’s wish to remarry
death!” the senior said.
This experience furthered strengthened Chen’s idea of getting married. But his son instead said that they would simply find their father some household help. “We are filial and will not leave him alone uncared for,” Chen junior said, dismissing the sunstroke incident. “We can find him a nanny or ask his neighbors to look after him, then all his worries will be solved.”
They all want a piece
“He feels lonely because he thinks too much,” Chen junior added. “If he had not always thought about getting married again, he would not have so many worries. And if he gets married again, he will not have a peaceful late life. Troubles like family conflicts, property division disputes and so on will all emerge, and then he will know he was wrong.”
Chen senior brushed up on law about senior people’s rights and interests in China and tried to show his children that he had the right to remarry. “But when I show him (Chen junior) the articles of the law, he threw it away without a glimpse. He just does not agree and said that if I insist on marrying Lu, I will shoulder all the consequences.”
“He is kind of threatening me. So angry, I almost severed connections with him several times,” Chen added. His son’s concerns about the property division with Lu have Chen feeling particularly sad. “It seems he only cares for property and does not care for me,” said Chen.
Such disputes between senior and junior family members over property inheritance have driven a number of new elderly couples to marry secretly without their children’s knowledge or blessing.
Jin, an 80-year-old who lives in Beijing, revealed to the Legal Daily that he has been hoping to find a new partner, but he has encountered resistance from his three children, who are very filial except when it comes to this one issue.
“It is about money. They all say that they worry the woman I find only cares for my money and may disappear with it. This concern makes sense, but it also shows they all want a piece of my belongings too,” said Jin, “After I pass away, the apartment could be sold for millions of yuan.”
Huang Donghui, a teacher from Henan University who specializes in Marxism, once told the Bianliang Evening newspaper that there are mainly two reasons why adult children try to prevent their senior parents from remarrying. First, they worry the marriage may damage their own interest and, second, they don’t want to shoulder the obligation of supporting the elderly.
Taking care of two infirm seniors instead of just one would indeed be an additional financial and emotional burden for most adult children, especially when the second senior is not even their own flesh and blood.
“Now if he gets married, will he also allow the new woman (after she dies) to be buried together with my deceased mother? Then how would we think when we go sweeping their tomb?” said Chen’s son. “Why can’t he think also for his children?”
Finding a compromise
Unwilling to upset their children, many new elderly couples turn to just living together as a fair compromise. Li Fugui and Zhang Yue’e from Yinchuan, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, have lived together for four years as a model senior couple.
Zhang lives in Li’s apartment and, to avoid complications about her property, pays 1,200 yuan to Li every month to cover their living expenses. If one of them gets sick, his or her respective children will take care of them.
Chen and Lu are also attempting cohabitation, though Lu admits that she is not quite content about living together without any commitment from Chen. Nonetheless, she quietly accepts their situation out of a desire for companionship.
As statistics from the National Working Commission on Aging show, by 2015 the Chinese population over 60 reached 222 million. By 2020, the number is expected to climb to 248 million, and the elderly will account for 17.17 percent of the total population. The number of Chinese aged 80 or older will also reach 30.67 million by 2020.
More and more elderly are expected to choose to live together without marriage certificates for various reasons. But as Luo Qiangqiang, an associate professor in law from Ningxia University pointed out, without legal protection, cohabitation cannot guarantee them due rights and interests when needed.
Property disputes are still possible, and unlike young couples, the elderly also have hidden troubles in terms of morality, medical care and so on. Experts suggest that people should show more tolerance to their single elderly parents for the sake of staying happy in their later years.
China law regarding elderly rights and interests makes it clear to protect their freedom in marriage. But as far as property division, lawyer Chen Wubin said that the two involved may notarize their property before getting married and make agreements about it with children from both sides present so that there will be no dispute or contention later.
“Notarizing property seems heartless, but it actually solves a big problem of their after-marriage life,” said the lawyer.
Elderly people gather at a park in Haikou, Hainan Province. In the box: Silver-haired couples celebrate their marriage in Jilin, Jilin Province.