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China trying to force children to visit aging parents

Come visit me or I'll sue you. That's the substance of a new law being pitched in China to encourage people to visit their aging parents.

Under the proposed legislation, an amendment to a 1996 law, pensioners who are ignored by their children could take them to court with the threat of fines or jail time.

News that the Chinese tradition of respecting and caring for elders may need a tune-up comes at the same time as a debate rages about similar practices among North Americans of Chinese descent.

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In her book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, Yale law professor Amy Chua outlined her strict "Chinese" model of parenting her two daughters, in which you submit to the rules and expectations of your mother, as well as pay homage to her for life. It didn't work out as planned for Prof. Chua - her youngest daughter rebelled. And it appears demographic trends are undermining the tradition in China.

For instance, the one-child policy has reduced the number of potential caregivers. And millions of those kids have had to cross the country to find work, which means the cost of getting home can be prohibitive.

"I'd love to be able to visit my parents frequently, but how often is enough?" 35-year-old Jane Xu, a mother of two, was quoted saying in China Daily. "We'd like to get home more often, but it's easier said than done."

She has lived in Shanghai for 15 years and a return ticket to her hometown in Northeast China costs more than 2,000 yuan (about $300). She makes 6,000 yuan a month and has 10 days of paid leave a year.

Some commentators have pointed out that the legislation may have something to do with a government unable to meet the needs of its greying population. The new law would also push for pensions and free medical services to those 80 and older.

Legislating relationships is tricky business. If it takes the threat of a lawsuit to get your delinquent kids to visit, what exactly do you hope to chat about over tea?

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