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The Ethical Problems and Remedies for Population Aging in China

Liu Rangxin, Yang Feng

(Hunan Science and Technology University, Xiangtan, Hunan, China)
Abstract: The issue of population has been a great concern around the world for a long time. Recently the aging population problem has become increasingly serious in China. This paper explores the Chinese problem of aging population and tried to find scientifically and reasonably solutions. It argues that finding and grasping the main contradiction of population problem is a key to solve social problems in China.
Key words: the tendency of population aging, ethical problem, ethical remedies   

Current situation of population aging in China
From the current situation of the given number of Chinese population, it can be seen that the aging population problem has become increasingly serious, and the status quo are as follow:
The large scale of aging population and a rapid increase of the population
Provided that the population aged 60 and above accounts for 13.26% of the total number of Chinese population, the number of aging population is around 180 million; if the population of which aged 65 and above accounts for the total of 8.87%, the number of aging population is about 120 million. Compared with other countries entering into aging society much earlier than China, the pace of development of aging population in China is relatively rapid. In the long run, “the number of aging population in China will have a stable but rapid increase in the near 40 years, and it is expected to reach a peak between year 2050 and 2055. Even though the pace of population aging will slow afterwards, the main stream is that at the time of 2100, the percentage of the middle-aged and the elder in China will maintain 34%.”(Du, P., Zhuo, Z. W., & Chen, W. (2005))
The inequalities showing in the development of aging population
The inequality appeared in the development of aging population in China mainly reflected on two respects: Firstly, the development level of aging population has great difference among the coastal, central and western regions, resulting in an “imbalance” situation. Secondly, the urban and rural development of aging population is “inversed”. According to some statistics, as people who migrated into cities to search for work are on the rise, the aging population level in rural areas is higher than that of urban. And the better medical and health conditions make urban citizens have longer lives than people in rural areas. Besides people from cities have the lower birth rate, therefore, the relative aging population level in China’s rural areas is rapidly going up.
Advancement of the aging population
Advancement of the aging people is reflected in two aspects: one is that getting old before they become rich and the other is that they are old without any preparations. China's aging population reached earlier than that in developed countries. It has occurred before the economic development reached to a certain level and the social security system is well established accordingly. Aging population and economic development advance each other. China's per capita GDP is less than that of developed countries when it enters into the aging society, while China has gone into the aging stage in advance. Thus China’s economic strength is relatively weak to aging population, which has been a bottleneck to economic and social development. And the ahead of aging population will inevitably have an impact on China's development, as the current crises emerge.
The manifestations of the ethical problems brought by aging of Chinese population
The aging population and its rapid growth have brought many ethic problems to society and aged people themselves. These ethic problems are manifested as follows:
Judicial crises between generations
Present situations of population aging in china, to a greater or lesser extent, have influenced society, economy and even everyone. From the perspective of social ethic, it mainly reveals in inter-generational social equity crisis. 
Firstly, such crises as the weakened political participation rights and marginalized social statues have deviated from inter-generational equality. Retired aging population in china, not any longer, take part in decision-making, and they are lack of corresponding discourse power. Aging population in china have enjoyed the political participation rights at present, but lost their power in practice.
Secondly, aging population has not enjoyed an equal allocation and their basic needs cannot secure. Inter-generational equality advocates ensuring equality and justice to everyone. However, aging population is exclusive in the real allocation.  China has upheld the system in which distribution according to work is dominant and multiple forms of distribution coexist. That is to say, China highlights the work ability and labor efficiency in the first allocation. Due to the physical and mental weakness of aging population, they are naturally at a detrimental position, resulting in partial allocation. Overlooking of the benefits of aging population has brought “No Country for Old man”.
Thirdly, in the synchronic inter-generational relationship, aging people has fulfilled their obligations when they were young. However it is a deviation of inter-generational cooperation concept that they are unable to get corresponding support and care. In China, elderly are unable to get solicitude and care in time. On the other hand, younger generations are unwilling to take on their duty to support parent, which has led to a trend of “passive empty nest”. It obviously departs form the concept of the inter-generation cooperation, causing a crisis of inter-generational cooperation and even the honesty crisis of inter-generational cooperation.
 Overlooking the value of aging population
          Firstly, social value-spiritual value of aging population cannot be realized. People in China have shift criteria from spiritual value to economic value.  Evaluation of social value for aging people is mostly based on economic value instead of spiritual value. Aging people lack the rights of participation and decision-making in terms of participation in social affairs.
          Secondly, individual values of aging population cannot be achieved and respected. Due to the pluralistic ideas and values, people have different tendencies toward to the values of aging population. With the gap of generation values between aging population and younger generation, aging population’s thoughts and behaviors cannot be respected and recognized and to make things worse, some of their intrinsic thoughts and lifestyles have been totally denied by younger generation.
Ethical deficiencies of spiritual endowments of the aging population
          Firstly, shortage of spiritual comfort in family aged. Human beings, as the integration of nature and society, have both physical and spiritual needs, while, the latter is superior. The mental needs are especially important to the family aged. Nowadays, although China's aging people can get their basic life safeguard, but the spiritual comfort is still inadequate, and even absented. They mainly have the following characteristics: the common discrimination of aging population; material support replacing the spiritual support; more and more “empty nesters”; disobediences to the wishes of the family aged, the gradual loss of filial piety.
          Secondly, ethical confusion of the “empty nesters”. The so-called “empty nesters” refers to the elderly live “alone” in their house. “Empty nesters”, have experienced certain kind of ethical doubts and moral tortures both physically and mentally. Firstly, the “empty nesters” are psychologically troubled. “Empty nesters” live alone, therefore, easily having a sense of loneliness and helplessness. This loneliness is mainly caused by the lack of moral responsibility of the family. Secondly, the “empty nesters” are not acquired the appropriate physical care, living a lower quality of life. Because of limited living ability, they are suffering both physically and mentally when in illness.
The obstacles of the sustainable development
Firstly, it is not conducive to the sustainable development of economy. In China, the characteristic of aging population is evident. For example, the cardinal number of aging population is large and the growing is fast. This phenomenon will cause the lack of the labor force in a certain period in China. What’s more, most of the current labor forces are aging people, which leads to the lower productivity and finally influences on the development of economy. In conclusion, labor force is the main element of economic growth, and production efficiency is the basic element of influencing and restricting the realization degree of goals. The lack of labor force and the low productivity have fatal effect on the sustainable development of economy.
Secondly, it is not beneficial to the sustainable development of social human resources. In society, the sustainable development claims to distribute social resources equally, namely satisfying the demands of contemporary people, and meanwhile taking into account of the next generation’s need of social resources. However, the reality in China is that ranging according the property is common. The aging people grasp the large part of social resources. Moreover, the large number of aging people assume the absolute superiority in distribution, but what young people are rewarded in distribution doesn’t conform to what they contribute, which isn’t beneficial to the development of next generation, and even becomes the bottleneck of their development.
The reasons of the ethical problem of aging
The economic reasons
Firstly, Chinese are labeled the aged before becoming rich and this fact made it very difficult to solve the problem of the aging. In China, as society steps into the period of aging behind the economic development, the pressure brought by caring the elderly on the economy will become heavier. Since China has a large population base, the expenditure of social pension is far beyond the capacity of the finance. Therefore, it is impossible for China to establish the perfect service system of the aged. Besides, the limitation of the social benefit as well as the lack of the basic infrastructure for the aged cannot meet the demand of increasing population of the aged.
Secondly, the quality of the pension is imbalanced which is caused by the imbalance of economic development. As we all know, the imbalance of the economic development in China, the difference of the urban-rural dual structure and the big gap of the economic level among china’s east, west and middle area, directly affect the solution to the aging problem in China. In addition, the majority of the rural aging population in China is not covered by the social insurance system. Compared with the urban area, the economic base in rural area is extremely weak. Especially there exist the great differences in rural areas in china’s east, west and middle area.
Social reasons: the aggravation of inter-generational conflicts
In the social aspect, the fundamental reason why there are so many ethical problems caused by the population aging is that the conflicts of the values among generations caused by the society-transformation. Conflicts of inter-generational relation lead to the change of values among generations. As the dominating position of the youth in society becomes more and more apparent, the values held by youth are more and more outstanding, while the voice of the aged in social life and the authority between generations will be weaker but cannot disappear in a short term. Thus, the contradictory force between the new and old values respectively represented by the youth and the elder will be increasingly fiercer. Therefore, to some degree, it is so difficult for them to reach a consensus in lifestyle, the way of thinking as well as the opinion of value, etc. So, it is not strange that there exist such phenomena as inter-generational fairness crisis, ignorance of the value of the aged group, let alone the humane and spiritual care for the old in a reasonable and scientific manner.
Cultural level: deconstruction of the filial piety culture and the spread of moral indifference
Family pension, in nature, is the real reflection of the ideology such as “faith” and “filial piety”, “benevolence” and “loyalty” in Chinese traditionally Confucius culture, out of which the “filial piety” is the core of it. According to the author, the fall of the family inter-generational ethnic results from the abating of the capacity for the ethical adjustment from the “filial piety” morality and it is the important cultural foundation which props up the possibility for the family pension. However, as the social economic foundation changes and diversity of the social opinion of value crashes, the bases namely economy, politics, society, etc. on which the traditional ethic depends have also changed, which prevent the influence and the action.
Institutional level: the lack of the law and institutions related to the pension as well as the safeguard institutions
In China, people tend to choose family pension for the aged population. Here are two reasons: first, the family pension can meet the demand of the aged population in some sense; second, the social pension is not comprehensive. At present, the pension mainly relies on the expenditure of the governmental finance and the policy support. However, the economic level in China cannot provide a series of support for the social pension, and it is far beyond the need of the huge aged population. Apart from these, the system and institution linked to the pension that adapt to the aging society are not perfect. At the present, Chinese pension institution varies in different regions and groups, and the old-age insurance system between city and countryside has a big difference, varying from coverage and enforcement to the pension income.
At the same time, China does not have the related and effective policies in social pension in the law term. Though the rights of the old in China have been protected by Marriage Law, Senior Citizen Rights and Interests Protection Law, there is still no policy and law to secure their rights in social aspect. Many problems occurring to the social pension tend to put the pressure on families, leading to a series of issues in pension and ethic.
The principles and measures to settle the ethical issue of population aging
Facilitating the social fairness and sharing the fruits of social development
First, we need to improve the inter-generational compensation and try our best to promote the fairness in redistribution. Rawls (1998) has pointed out that all social value –the base of freedom, chance, income, wealth and self-esteem –must be distributed fairly, unless the unequal distribution for one or all values fit for each individual’s benefit. If we want to realize the social equality and justice, especially the reward to the aging population, the fundamental way lies in the further compensation to the senior when we redistribute the income.
Second, we should improve the inter-generational cooperation. It is so necessary and indispensable that we cooperate with generations when we try to solve these problems. In light of the Chinese reality, the nation and society need to fairly compensate the aging population, in the principle of the justice and cooperation, and to work out effective policies and measures to respond to the contribution of aging population and its situation.
Fostering and rebuilding the traditional filial culture and creating the good social environment
We need to rebuild the function of filial culture in families.
First, we must strengthen the moral education in families, especially the filial piety. As the socialism firmly stood its foot in China, the traditional paternalism totally ended. “The essence of the ethics is the mutual care and love between people. Without the participation of the emotion, the responsibility will turn into an empty concept and will lack the driving force to practice” (Guo, 2008). In modern families, the patriarchy has disappeared, so has the task of parents’ traditionally moral education. As the new moral ideology and code come into being, the family has already lost the capability of “socialize the morality”, and the traditional pattern of “filial piety as moral education” has been overturned, which led to the absence of the moral education in families. Therefore, it is very essential for us to rebuild the function of moral education in families. If we are resolute to rebuild the filial culture, we need to educate people from their childhood and parents should set a good examples to their kids, which requires that parents have enough background of moral and cultural cultivation and they need to request their children according to the requirements of filial piety by taking advantage of the excellent ethical codes in Chinese traditional culture. In addition, we still need to develop the kinship between family members. As we all know, the kinship is the important prerequisite and a foundation to the family cohesion and centripetal force and this will be helpful to rebuild the filial behavioral codes.
Second, the inter-generational responsibility and ethics should be rebuilt. If we want to replay the role of filial culture in a family, we shall rebuild the inter-generational responsibility and ethics and get rid of the strange circle of the inter-generational justice crisis. Basically, supporting the old is the core of filial culture, and this is one of the contractual inter-generational transfers. Shi Bingqiang (2007) once said “during the cycles of the transfer of responsibility between generations, it gives a reasonable clue for the balance of right and duty from morality to law. And, in fact, it is also the foundation in which the inter-generational responsibility and ethics lies, and of course, it is also a factor for the construction of a harmonious family or even a harmonious society”. Therefore, children need to make efforts on their own, which is also the requirement of right and duty, and they need to cultivate the opinion of filial piety of next generation by their ideology of “responsibility” “obligation”.
We must create the good social environment for respecting and caring the old.
The environment of respecting and caring the old plays an important role in reconstructing the moral regulation capability of the filial piety. If we want to achieve this goal, we need to improve citizens’ cognition of filial culture. So we shall take to improve the citizens’ inside moral quality and their recognition level, and help them understand the value of filial culture. The most effective way is moral education, and the moral education includes forms of family education, school education as well as socially environmental education, etc.
First, family education. Family education is the first place for a person’s education, and it is also the primary and direct education for the children’s filial piety. Therefore, as the kids’ teachers, parents should set their own examples for their children to show their care and filial obedience to the old. In this way, they can imperceptibly influence their children, which is the first step to establish a filial concept into their children.
Second, school education. This is the primary task for a school. The school can arrange several moral curricula for students, so children can deepen their identity of filial piety. When we teach them about the ideal of filial piety, we should attach importance to the practice of this piety.
Third, the education of social environment. We must propagate culture and filial examples by using the mass media in a reasonable manner. For instance, we can use the public-interest ads to rationally spread the filial culture and correctly guide people so that they can have a rational attitude to the filial piety.
Consolidating the legislation and establishing and perfecting the retirement pension system
First, we should establish and perfect the social relief system and the retirement law system. At present, the social relief mainly depends on the Civil Affairs Administration Department, and there is no clear relief law. Similarly, there are no law articles that can suit the retirement pension. In addition, we need to perfect the legislation and regulations for the spiritual support of children to their parents. In China, the existing Constitution, Marriage Law as well as Senior Citizen Rights and Interests Protection Law all have some items about the children’s duty of supporting their parents, but no items about the duty of spiritual support. Next, we should perfect the law in respecting and loving the old. It is very necessary in carrying forward the trend of respecting the old and of the social positive power.
Second, we should establish and perfect the social retirement pension system. Social security is a project which full of mass, policy, and institution. Since Chinese aging population has its own characteristics and caused many serious problems with different level, so a comprehensive and multileveled social security system and the retirement security system should be required in light of these prominent problems. Efforts should be made to coordinate the patterns, coverage and the standards of the pension between the urban and rural areas and China’s eastern, western, and central region. Retirement security system which combines the government, society and family should be established. We can gradually improve it by making different measures according to their own situation.
Helping the realization of the value of aging population
First of all, the aging population should have a right cognition of their own value. In China, the aging people almost need to be cared. However, the old should raise the pursuit of their spiritual life and life meaning when they are in later years. Apart from that, they should have a correct position for their social roles. It can be said that how the aging population see themselves decides their life quality.
Second, we need to provide more chances for the aging population to conduct social practices. Since the aging population demands some roads to social practices to realize their own values, government and society are required to produce the demand of practices .During the process, at first, we need to make it clear that we cannot regard the aging population as a social burden. In addition, we should admit it that, the social value of the aging population and the pension they accept as well as the pension model is not equal. We’d better encourage them to create and demonstrate value when they take part in practices. Therefore, we need to educate the aging people, which is meaningful for improving their spiritual situation, fulfilling their spiritual life and satisfying their basically spiritual demand.
Du, P., Zhai, Z. W., & Chen, W. (2005). The Millennium Tendency of Aging   Population in China. Human Research, 6, 90-93.
Guo, J.H. (2008). Ethical Theory Series. Beijing: People's Publishing House.
Rawls, J. (1998). A Theory of Justice. Beijing: China social Sciences Press.
Shi, B. Q. (2007). The reconstruction of responsibility ethics in inter-generation. Journal of Hebei Academic, 7, 64-67.