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Migrating elderly people feel invisible in China’s cities

(People's Daily Online)    17:59, May 14, 2018

The term “elderly drifters”, or “laopiao” in Chinese, is used to refer to a large group of the aging population who migrate to cities where their children live and work.

This kind of migration has amounted to nearly 18 million people in China, according to the National Health Commission statistics, accounting for 7.2 percent of the 247-million strong migrating population. Almost half of them migrate to take care of their children and the younger generation, People’s Daily reported.

Generally, they wake up early, prepare breakfast for their working children and grandchildren, and then their daily schedule centers around preparing meals for the whole family and taking their grandchildren to school.

Although most are tired but happy, some feel they are part of an “invisible population” due to different dialects or living habits in their new city, a 2016-2017 report on Beijing social governance development disclosed.

The “laopiaos” or “elderly drifters” appear in the process of peri-urbanization, said Professor Mu Guangzong at Peking University. It’s a sign of improved urbanization in China.

The associated risks of an elderly population leaving their hometowns are mainly old-age security, health care and social communication, said Professor Mu. With a fixed mindset, lifestyle and reliance on acquaintance, they may feel isolated and misunderstood, thus affecting personal evaluation of their old-age life.

Miao Yanmei, a junior social worker and associate professor at Beijing City University, is dedicated to finding out how to make these migrating old people happy.

Miao’s surveys indicate that a half of these aged migrants come from other provinces and cities, mainly rural towns and villages. Some regarded their stay with the younger generation in a strange city as a “fixed-term imprisonment.” What’s worrying is the fact that a large number of Laopiaos may suffer from mental illness such as depression.

The Professor’s social work group in Beijing initiated a series of activities to get the aged migrants into communities, such as lectures on life and health and even singing competitions. With a strengthened sense of belonging, they will feel more secure and happy. With an added sense of happiness, they'll find a long-term stay more enjoyable.

Making elderly migrants happy requires the coordinated efforts of their children, governments and the whole society, according to Yuan Zhifa, the author of Happy Old Age. He calls for adults to treat their aging parents as they do their children, giving more time, tolerance, company and understanding.

In addition, governments should provide better social service, but also build up an old age care system for this special group. 

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Web editor: Bianji, Liang Jun)

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