Han had lived through a lot. Born in 1932, he was a boy when the Japanese invaded China, a teenager when Mao Zedong founded the People’s Republic, a young man in the hungry years that followed.
On a chilly day in December, the 85-year-old Chinese grandfather gathered some scraps of white paper and wrote out a pitch in blue ink: “Looking for someone to adopt me.”
“Lonely old man in his 80s. Strong-bodied. Can shop, cook and take care of himself. No chronic illness. I retired from a scientific research institute in Tianjin, with a monthly pension of 6,000 RMB [$950] a month,” he wrote.
“I won’t go to a nursing home. My hope is that a kind-hearted person or family will adopt me, nourish me through old age and bury my body when I’m dead.”
He taped a copy to a bus shelter in his busy neighbourhood.
Then he went home to wait. Han was desperate for company. He said his wife had died. His sons were out of touch. His neighbours had kids to raise and elderly parents of their own.
He was fit enough to ride his bike to the market to buy chestnuts, eggs and buns, but he knew that his health would one day fail him. He also knew he was but one of tens of millions of Chinese growing old without enough support. Improved living standards and the one-child policy have turned China’s population pyramid upside down. Already, 15 percent of Chinese are older than 60. By 2040, it will be nearly one in four, according to current projections.
It’s a demographic crisis that threatens China’s economy and the fabric of family life. Businesses must chug along with fewer workers. A generation of single children care for aging parents on their own.