Promoting filial piety as elderly suicides rise
WHAT makes a good son or daughter?
At China's first museum dedicated to the topic of "filial piety", the answer seems to be: almost superhuman levels of devotion and sacrifice.
The Modern Filial Piety Culture Museum, in the town of Guyi in the south-western province of Sichuan, opened four months ago.
The local authorities paid for at least a quarter of its 8 million yuan (S$1.8 million) construction costs, said its businessman founder, Liao Lin.
In a grey brick courtyard building whose entrance is festooned with a banner that reads "Pass on the Value", slick panels and exhibits in gleaming glass cases tell of more than a dozen modern-day role models.
One is policeman Wang Chunlai, who provided his bedridden parents with years of medical care, giving them injections and blood transfusions.
"This man is a classic example of filial piety," said museum volunteer Zeng Yan, in front of the Wangs' tattered beds and discoloured bedpans, donated after their deaths.
Others include an eight-year-old girl who provided constant care for her paralysed mother, and a teacher who took his Alzheimer's-afflicted mother everywhere he went.
Among the artefacts is a cart pulled by two sons as they took their mother, seated in it, to more than 600 towns and cities across China to fulfil her dying wish to travel.
They wore out 12 pairs of shoes in the process, several of them on display beside the cart in the museum.
"I think that people often don't consider their parents' dreams. That's the meaning of the exhibit," Ms Zeng said.
An introductory panel features equal-sized portraits of Confucius and President Xi Jinping, with a quote from Mr Xi urging officials to read the Standards For Being A Good Pupil And Child, a collection of Confucian sayings which emphasise filial piety.
Filial piety was the core value of China's ancient sage Confucius, and outlandish tales have been used for centuries to spur readers to greater heights of parental devotion.
One of China's most renowned literary works is the 24 Paragons Of Filial Piety, written during the Yuan Dynasty 600 years ago.
It includes a woman who breastfeeds her toothless mother-in-law, a son who tastes his father's excrement to test for illness, and another man who sits naked at his parents' bedside to prevent them from being bitten by mosquitoes.
But China's three decades of rapid economic growth have put families under unprecedented strain, with hundreds of millions leaving their parents behind as they migrate to find work.
Suicide rates among elderly people in some rural areas have increased fivefold over the last two decades, the state-run media has reported, with family neglect seen as a major cause.
At the same time, "one-child policy" family-planning rules mean the burden of care will usually fall on a single offspring.
A 2012 law requiring adult children to visit their aged parents "often" or risk repercussions has been seen as unenforceable.
Instead, Beijing has fallen back on celebrating examples of the virtue, with local bureaucrats holding competitions to find "filial children".