This week China has gone and done what I am sure my Mum hopes Australia will also one day do; enact legislation to force adult children to visit their parents. According to state media, the measure is inspired by concerns over the amount of “empty nest” homes in a country with a “tradition of extended family units”. Obviously something not helped by the State’s one child policy. There are still many unknowns with the new law, most noticeably how often children will be required to visit their parents, how the state will keep track of how often they visit, and what punishments will be doled out to those who don’t comply. But what I really want to know is; how, in a society with a “tradition of extended family units”, has the government so sorely misunderstood what makes families strong?
To illustrate my point I have a series of questions for Chinese officials. First off, how many of your favourite family moments were the contrived ones? Do you really prefer those times when your Gran forced everyone to dress up and sit around the dinner table? Or, like me, do you prefer when you all spontaneously met up in the kitchen later on and make fun of her about it? Don’t you prefer talking to your parents when they have just called to see how you are going, rather than when they have prefaced the conversation with a declaration that you don’t call enough? Wouldn’t you rather to meet up with your parents because you want to, rather than out of some ridiculous obligation? And, don’t you think your parents would realize that you have suddenly started visiting more, and then take offense that it took the state to make you see them more?
For a society that apparently takes pride in it’s “tradition of extended family units”, it is quite bizarre to see such a thorough misunderstanding of what makes the family unit special; it’s voluntary not obligatory. Introducing punchcards to ensure I visit my mum would hardly engender more feelings for her, if anything it would be the reverse. I would start seeing her as another chore enacted on me by the state. Something to get out of the way quickly so I can get on with what I prefer to do, and then dread as the next dose approaches. I have no advice on how to make Chinese families voluntarily see each other more. Heavens knows I am hardly the most familial person. However, the one thing I do know is that forcing everyone to dress up and sit around the dinner table won’t work.