China Just Backtracked on Its Promise to Take Care of Elderly One-Child Parents

April 25, 2016 Updated: April 28, 2016

To get the Chinese people to buy into its one-child policy in the 1980s, the Chinese Communist Party vowed to take care of Chinese couples when they entered their golden years.

Hundreds of senior Chinese one-child parents recently found that promise to be empty.

On April 18, about 1,700 one-child parents traveled to the National Health and Family Planning Commission headquarters in Beijing to petition for better social support, according to Lianhe Zaobao, a Singapore Chinese language daily newspaper.

Their demands include the creation of an agency that would serve as their legal dependent (hospitals and senior homes are currently turning away seniors who don’t have a child to act as a legal guarantor), and an increase in the government stipend for families bereaved of their only child.

(L-R) Scene outside of the National Health and Family Planning Commission as female petitioners sit on benches waiting to file grievances with the commission. (64tianwang/United Daily News)
(L-R) Scene outside of the National Health and Family Planning Commission as female petitioners sit on benches waiting to file grievances with the commission. (64tianwang/United Daily News)

The very next day, however, public security officials started escorting the petitioning parents in Beijing’s Jiujingzhuang petitioner service center, an extralegal detention facility, or “black jail.” By April 20, there were no petitioners left outside the regime’s family planning headquarters, according to, a website that tracks human rights issues in China. Petitioners in “black jails” are usually held, and frequently tortured and abused, for days or months before being sent back to their respective hometowns.

“We used to be law-abiding citizens who adhered to national policy. Now they’re treating us like dog excrement,” said a female petitioner before public security officers ushered her up a bus, according to Lianhe Zaobao.  

Speaking to New York-based Chinese language broadcaster New Tang Dynasty Television (NTD), Zhao Ming, a petitioner who managed to evade arrest, said: “Even though we’ve followed the standard procedure for petitioning, we’re still being suppressed.”

“When the government first came up with the one-child policy, it should have considered the risks families face after losing their only child,” said Hai Qin (pseudonym), a woman from the coastal city of Tianjin.

Describing the experience of losing her only daughter 13 years ago as a “descent into desolation,” Hai added, “The country enjoys demographic dividend by implementing the birth control policy, but unfortunate families are laden with the risks of the policy.”

The Chinese regime’s stance on family planning and senior care have slowly shifted through the years.

In 1985, slogans read: “Family Planning Is Good, the Government Will Take Of You When You Are Old.”

In 1995, the slogan went: “Family Planning Is Good, the Government Provides Senior Care.”  

In 10 more years, the slogan became: “Don’t depend on the Government When You Are Old.”

In 2012, it shifted to “Postponing Retirement Is Good, Look After Yourself When You Are Old.”

While the regime formally abandoned its one-child policy in favor of two-child families this January, experts think that change might not have the intended effect of reversing a shrinking workforce and rapidly aging population, or end the human rights abuses that come with enforcing the now loosened population control measures.

Follow Frank on Twitter: @HwaiDer