How China adapts to aging


The birth planning policy (1978) and the increase in life expectancy have transformed the age structure of the Chinese population. According to the UN population projections, the part of people aged 65 and more, which was 7% in 2000, is expected to  triple by 2050 to 24%, with 330 million elderly.

How does this first generation of single-child-parents live? What challenges does the country face, and how can it adapt to the rapid aging of its population? We interviewed Justine Rochot, PhD student in sociology at the Center for Modern and Contemporary China Studies at EHESS.

Hello Justine. Your areas of research focus on the aging of Chinese society and the processes of socialization of older people in China. What is the place of the elderly people today in the Chinese society?

It is a relatively trivialized discourse today, in China and abroad, which tends to highlight the importance of Confucian heritage of filial piety as a cultural element favoring traditional respect for the elderly in China. From this point of view, thanks to a more "communitarian" tradition, China would show greater respect for the elderly than the West, portrayed as more individualistic.

In my opinion, these representations prevent us from understanding the transformations of the place of the elderly in today's Chinese society, which is far from being so simple and positive. First of all, there is a big gap between what is happening in the city and in the countryside: in the countryside, we are just starting to set up a pension system, and the elderly in the poorest regions are much more dependent on younger generations who go to work in the big cities and often leave their own dependent children. In the early 2000s, we saw a sharp increase in the suicide rate of the elderly, then two to three times higher than the average of Western countries, and the rural average four to five times higher than in the cities.

It must also be placed in the broader context of the transformation of the links between the generations, in the city as well as in the countryside: young people are less willing to blindly obey the wishes of their parents and to sacrifice themselves for the family. They also want to achieve themselves as individuals (although this is the subject of many compromises) and increasingly value the nuclear family rather than the extended family. There is therefore a strong gap between what older people think they can demand to their children (in the name of the unconditional respect that children should give their parents) and the way in which children perceive these injunctions, which are sometimes considered to be excessively intrusive.

From this point of view, adult children tend to negotiate relations in the short term by considering respect more reciprocally, to value the importance of affection.

But this is all the more difficult today because family relations are largely dependent on the pressures generated by China's current social and economic environment: in the city, price inflation, especially real estate inflation, limits children's autonomy. They remain highly dependent on the financial assistance of their parents to study or to buy an apartment or a car when they get married.

From this point of view, the elderly feel little in tune with today's world, much more materialistic, consumerist, quick, and paradoxically more uncertain in their eyes than the Maoist period in which they grew up. For many of them — for example, for peasants or workers — the economic opening of the 1980s has also been synonymous with a violent social downsizing. To understand the place occupied by the elderly today and the feeling of idleness that many face, we must also put this in the broader context of the life course of these generations now elderly.

Cité Interdite500.jpg

The forbidden city



Aging in Chinese countryside - Lin Shu Hui

Sat down in the middle of his field, Lin Shu Hui, 86, told us about life under Mao, then under Deng Xiaoping. He also told us how he met his wife, hidden in the Guilin Caves during the Sino-Japanese War - he was nine years old, she was eight.

REPORT - Those who act

The old Pekingese has something to say

Grandmothers have their talkshow: in China, the program "The old Pekingese has something to say" (北京 大妈 有话说) in a huge success on the app WeChat. It reveals the very advanced use of Chinese elderly people for the mobile. In this program, old women talk, comment the news, give their miraculous recipes or their wise pieces of advice... We visited their studio to meet these third age stars.

PORTRAIT - Aging in Beijing

The hyper sportive elderly from the Temple of Heaven

Drop your good resolutions, you will never be as strong as these old Pekingese. 

Portrait - Aging in Beijing -

3 questions to the matchmaker Ms. Zhang

In a 25 years period of time, she has performed 93 marriages. Ms. Zhang perpetuates the traditional Chinese profession of marriage matchmaker. She gave us the secret of a successful marriage in China - and what is to avoid at all costs.

Those who ACT - HONG-KONG

Elderly in the kitchen

At Viet Street restaurant, in Hong Kong, pensioners provide service, cooking, cocktails ... The chain of restaurants Gingko House hires seniors whose meager retirement is not enough for them to live with dignity in the main financial center of Asia. We had lunch there, and it was delicious.

THose who act - HONG-KONG

In Hong Kong, young people put themselves in the shoes of old people

With cataract-effect glasses, a 10-kilo jacket on the back, schoolchildren go out into the street to meet these old men and women who collect cardboard for the equivalent of 2 dollars a day.



→ Follow us on 


→ Follow us on 


→ Follow us on  


→ Subscribe to our