The 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC), which is meeting in Beijing on October 16, is expected to grant an unprecedented third five-year term to Xi Jinping, the CCP’s general secretary and state president. Ahead of the congress, RFA examined Xi’s decade, 69, at the helm of the world’s most populous nation in a series of reports on hong kong, foreign police, intellectualsand civil society.
In the summer of 2022, a Chinese video blogger went viral with what he heard was an inspirational story of his great-uncle, a resourceful elderly relative who made a living as a carpenter and was still working well into his eighties. year.
But the narration also had a sting in the tail: “The second uncle really wants to earn some money for his retirement… but my grandmother can’t take care of herself anymore, even telling me” I don’t want to “live anymore,” and that she once hung a noose ready on the door frame.”
As ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leader Xi Jinping prepares to seek an unprecedented third term at the party’s 20th Congress on Sunday, he will claim among his achievements the “eradication” of extreme poverty in China.
China declared in November 2020 that it had eliminated extreme poverty, claiming success in one of Xi’s main policy goals ahead of the CCP’s centenary the following year.
Yet, while government-supported employment programs have focused on encouraging young people to seek employment in cities, older people in rural areas have been left to live on meager government subsidies, without the younger generation to help them and without enough money to live decently. medical care.
Many decide that such a life is no longer worth living.
A new study published in July 2022 and quoted by state news agency Xinhua showed that the suicide rate among the elderly in rural areas has increased fivefold over the past two decades.
“When you go to the countryside, you often hear that someone died, and when you ask the question, they often tell you that it was pesticides [which means] suicide,” Yao Cheng, a former NGO worker who has researched the rights of women and children in rural China, told RFA.
“In 2011, a German journalist and I went to a mountainous area in Hunan, where virtually everyone in the village had gone,” Yao said. “It took two hours of walking through the mountains to get there.”
“The youngest in the village had all left to look for work…and all those who remained were old bachelors in their 60s and 60s,” he said. “Many of them lived on monthly government subsistence payments of less than 100 yuan. [currently 170 yuan/month].”
“They didn’t want to die in pain, I heard they would stock up on extra sleeping pills because they wouldn’t have the strength to hang themselves if they were sick,” he said. “Another common method of suicide is drinking pesticides.”
“They feel like they can’t go on living anymore.”
A resident of a village in the eastern province of Anhui, who only gave the initial L, said that at least two elderly people in his hometown have taken their own lives in the past three or four years, often because of illness.
“The most urgent need in rural areas is for medical care: general medical care; care for chronic illnesses and treatment for serious illnesses,” L said, adding that his mother-in-law is currently struggling to find medical help. money for his glaucoma medication.
While her medical insurance once reimbursed half of the 3,000 yuan annual cost, she now receives nothing at all, prompting L to wonder if the funding has been eaten up by the constant COVID-19 testing required as part of Xi Jinping’s zero COVID policy.
US-based rights activist Chen Guangcheng, who has represented rural residents trying to defend their rights through legal channels, told a similar story.
“Older people in rural areas are actually forced to choose suicide because of their circumstances,” Chen said. “At the end of the day, they still depend on the small amount of food they can produce from the land.”
“Without mobility, they have nothing,” he said.
Lack of economic security
Yu-Chih Chen, an assistant professor of social work and social administration at the University of Hong Kong who studies healthy aging, said China’s elderly are fundamentally insecure.
“There’s a saying in rural China that says ‘put off the little things, suffer the big things, and don’t go to the hospital until you’re near death,'” said Chen.
“It reflects the general lack of economic security and people’s inability to meet their medical needs.”
Data from China’s 2020 national census revealed that nearly 24% of the rural population is now over 60, with more than 100 million elderly people now living alone in the homes where they once raised their families.
Social isolation is also a major driver of suicide in this group, according to Chen Yu-Chih.
“Social isolation has been proven to lead to mortality in college studies,” Chen said. “The health impact is similar to the effect of smoking 15 cigarettes a day.”
Conversely, a 2021 study by population researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that the suicide rate among seniors dropped 8.7% during the Lunar New Year holiday, when children adults returned to their parents.
Chen Guangcheng says the problem could be solved with better government policies.
“The CCP should not misallocate its social resources,” he said, adding that there is a huge imbalance in government spending between rural areas and cities.
More than 500 million people currently live in rural areas, about 36% of the population. Yet they depend for their health care on just 1.35 million rural clinics, of which only about 690,000 are staffed with certified doctors and health workers, a ratio of one health worker to over 700. people.
mental health crisis
Figures for 2021 showed a 40% drop in the number of people with rural medical certificates, down from 1.26 million in 2011, an official study citing low pay and lack of security for old age and retirement as the main factors behind the fall.
Yao Hao, a psychiatrist at the Shanghai Mental Health Center, wrote an article earlier this year in the officially backed English-language outlet Sixth Tone, sounding the alarm about a mental health crisis in rural areas.
“Currently, the responsibility for caring for people with mental illnesses is shared among families, communities, and institutions, with families bearing the brunt of the burden,” Yao wrote. “In China [there is a] social obligation for families to take care of their sick members. »
“This obligation puts enormous pressure on families, especially in poorer communities,” he wrote. “Once this pressure exceeds the family’s ability to cope, problems are likely to arise; for example, patients are sometimes left in hospital or locked up at home.”
Recent figures from China’s National Office of Aging, Ministry of Civil Affairs and Ministry of Finance indicate that there are also 40.63 million disabled and semi-disabled elderly people in China, with only 44,000 skilled workers. for elderly care across the country.
The lack of caregivers often forces elderly residents in rural areas to rely on friends and neighbors for support, according to Chen Yu-Chih.
“But these resources are not sustainable,” Chen said. “They are unreliable and unstable.”
A Beijing resident who gave only the initial C, whose grandmother committed suicide, said lack of money is often reason enough for older people to commit suicide.
“Some people say old people don’t want to kill themselves, they just need pensions,” C said. “Maybe Beijing and Shanghai have more pensions for old people, but in most areas, as far as I know…there are actually very few pensions for the elderly.”
“After my grandmother passed away, the local government didn’t react in any way,” C said. they be so unfair and indifferent?
Back in Anhui, L wanted to know why rural communities have always had to bear the burden of political, social and economic changes in China.
“My grandfather suffered from high blood pressure and had to take various medicine for old people’s illnesses,” L said. “It costs 800 to 900 yuan per month, or about 10,000 yuan per year.”
“That cost was astronomical for him, an old man living alone in the countryside.”
“Since [People’s Republic of China] was founded in 1949, it has always been rural areas and farming communities that have made the greatest sacrifices, especially through the [post-1979] economic reforms,” said L.
“They have always had inadequate education, medical care and pensions… This is a huge segment of the population, and yet [those in power] can’t say they’re in pain, or they don’t know why? »
“Haven’t they suffered enough?
Translated and edited by Luiseta Mudie.