chapter  4
19 Pages


In many cultures old people are owed something by society which younger generations are not, deference perhaps or a peculiar form of respect, and pretty much everywhere we consider aged parents to be owed something special by their children. Even when our parents are not especially needy, we believe we ought to spend time with them; involve them in our lives and the lives of their grandchildren; and offer advice, resources and more intimate forms of support. 1 When our parents do become frail and vulnerable, we have more extensive duties to care for and tend to them, and to have a substantial role managing that care which is met by others; perhaps to alleviate their social isolation; and sometimes to take over significant responsibilities for their finances or accommodation, for example. 2 As populations age in Western societies, so the debate about what children should do for their elderly parents, and which of their needs should be met more impersonally by the state, becomes more acute. In Chinese culture filial duties are freighted with considerable symbolic and moral significance and involve notions of a transgenerational community, deference to elders and the rightful ordering of the various parts of society. 3 In Chinese culture, especially, the relationship-duties nexus is very real.