Free­dom to marry

In China, many adult chil­dren for­bid their wid­owed par­ents to re­marry

Global Times - - Front Page -

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.

‘Trou­ble­some’ thing

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.

Pho­tos: VCG

El­derly peo­ple gather at a park in Haikou, Hainan Prov­ince. In the box: Sil­ver-haired cou­ples cel­e­brate their mar­riage in Jilin, Jilin Prov­ince.

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