Beijing’s caring legacy

Graham Connelly reflects on China’s family culture, and how care is reciprocated across the generations.  

I’m currently spending a month travelling in China with a China-born prominent member of the Glasgow Chinese community. For me, this ‘gap month’ was planned as an exciting way of marking the transition between full-time work and beginning a phase-in to my eventual retirement. For my friend, it’s an opportunity to share with me the culture of his childhood in China and to see the continuing momentous changes taking place in this vast and diverse country.

Walking back to our hotel at night in Beijing, I came across a mural on a wall. The mural featured a set of panels, each one with an image evoking a moral tale, such as, don’t waste food, work hard, love your country. The one I’ve selected here seemed particularly appropriate to the theme of our blog. It shows an adult – perhaps a teacher, or parent, or carer – encouraging a child in what could be school homework. Apart from the obvious message of valuing education, the main moral point being made here is that when the adult demonstrates care for the child, that devotion will be reciprocated in a society that cares for its elders.

Respect for older people is an important value in Chinese culture, but the traditions are being challenged by the obvious changes taking place in China. I had a chance meeting in Beijing with a Chinese national, now resident in California, and representing a firm providing training for staff in care homes. She told me that more Chinese elderly are living in group care as working patterns in the new China make it difficult for extended families to live together in the traditional way. The signs of acquisitiveness are everywhere, but so are the obvious differences in wealth apparent. You only have to look at a road in any city to see this demonstrated in the sights of Porches, Mercedes and BMWs, with horns honking as they fight for road space with ancient bicycles and motorised rickshaws.

About our blogger

Graham Connelly is senior lecturer in the School of Social Work and Social Policy at the University of Strathclyde.