Festivity, Modern Chinese Culture

To the Mountain on this Beautiful Autumn Day!

What have you planned for next Wednsday (17th October)? Many in China will have a hiking trip with their grandparents, because this year it is the ninth day of the ninth month in the Chinese lunar calendar, or Chongyang (重阳chóng yáng), a day dedicated to hiking. The tradition is believed to be originated from a legend in the Eastern Han dynasty when a man named Heng Jing led his village to the top of a mountain to escape a plague, after his own parents had died from it. Mountains have always been a major source of inspiration in Chinese art and literature, especially in the autumn. Two lines from a famous poem “Hiking to Mountain Qi on the Ninth”《九日齐山登高》 written by Du Mu(杜牧,803-852 AD, Tang Dynasty)captures the seasonal joy:

Jiānghánqiū yǐng yàn chū fēi, yǔ kè xié hú shàng cuìwēi
Chénshì nán féng kāikǒu xiào, júhuā xū chā mǎn tóu guī.

杜牧,803-852 AD

The lines read: “As the river bares the reflection of autumn and the first batch of wild geese flying to the south, I bring wine to hike up the green mountain with my guests. We have to enjoy this rare happiness to the full, even with chrysanthemum flowers all over our hair.” In 2012, the day was given an additional meaning to become Elderly Day in China, because the number nine sounds the same as 久 (jǐu) , or “long lasting”, something to wish for old people. It is also perhaps a timely action to draw attention to the upcoming challenge of an aging population. Chinese official census shows that in 2016, those aged over 65 has reached over 149 million, with elderly dependency rate rising steadily from 11.5% to 15% in the past five years. This means for every 100 adults at earning age, there are 15 elderly. This is a fairly low number compared with the developed world, such as Norway (26%) and EU (30%), but an issue for China nonetheless as modern lifestyle and economic structure have brought seismic changes to the culture of caring for elderly within the family.

A modern Chinese painting to the poem “Hiking to Mount Qi on the ninth” by painter 黎雄才

Filial Piety vs Social Security of the Elderly

Since the first dynasty in China, it has been held as an unquestionable ideal that all elderly are cherished for their wisdom and experience, and should be cared for by their children and family. Elderly care has long been supported by “filial piety” (孝 xiào), or the expectation of (adult and young) children’s obedience and responsibility to care for their parents. However, elderly people are losing their authority and status as their experience is less relevant in the industrialized world than in agricultural society. Now it is common for the younger generation to leave their hometown for better opportunities, so they are unable stay by the side of their parents. The legacy of the one child policy also results in many having to singularly shoulder the heavy burden to finance the care of their aging parents. All these mean that keeping up the ideal of a society that cares for all elderly would become more and more of the state’s responsibility. It will be interesting to see how the Chinese government continues to resolve this issue. Till then, perhaps it is a good idea to enjoy the moment and share a pot of chrysanthemum tea with a senior, after a walk in the mountain.

A poster on Elderly Day on Chong Yang that reads “On the day of Chong Yang, love and respect the elderly”


The National Bureau of Statistics of China: http://data.stats.gov.cn/easyquery.htm?cn=C01 The World Bank Data: https://data.worldbank.org 新华网 《需要层次理论视域下的敬老文化》(2015) (Xinhua Net, “The Culture of Respecting Elderly from the Perspective of Needs Hierarchy”) http://www.xinhuanet.com/gongyi/yanglao/2015-10/27/c_128363642.htm 中国社会科学网 《中国人养老观念的历史演变》 (Chinese Social Science Net, “The Historical Evolution of Elderly Care in China”)http://www.cssn.cn/zt/zt_xkzt/shxzt/zgrylgndlsyb/ 91敬老 《“居家养老+社区养老”的嵌入式养老模式需要怎样的社区营造?》 ( 91 Respect Elderly, “How to Create a Stay-home Elderly Model in a Community”) http://www.91jinglao.com/article-28379-1.html