Chinese Hire Strangers To Visit Parents After New Law Prohibits Neglect Of Elderly

China's elderly
China's growing elderly population is set to represent one-third of China's population by 2053. Reuters

Last week, China’s government rolled out new policies that would require the children of elderly Chinese to visit and keep in touch with their parents regularly. Though the laws are seen as a push for China’s new generation to make a shift back toward traditional Chinese values of filial piety, they already have succeeded in at least one aspect: They spurred that generation’s creative entrepreneurship.

According to the Shanghai Daily, some vendors on Taobao, China’s largest e-commerce website, similar to Amazon or eBay, are selling a service that will send strangers to visit your parents for a few hours, which could potentially fulfill the government’s new requirements. “We offer services such as chatting, celebrating birthdays and even performances,” one of the vendors on Taobao told the Shanghai Daily. For now, the service costs 100 yuan, roughly $16, per hour, in addition to transportation fees, activities and additional gifts. Other sources are reporting even more competitive rates at 8 yuan, about $1.30, for 10 minutes, or 25 yuan for an hour.

The service says that it is targeting people who do not have good relationships with their parents, or are too busy to go visit them because they live too far away. The service is even willing to provide a bespoke experience for your parents to make it worth your money. “We have a professional team but you have to tell us topics they like to start a good chat,” the online storekeeper said.

While some busy or estranged children may resort to the Taobao service in hopes of avoiding any legal trouble, because of the law's vagueness, a visit from a stranger may not be enough. The Law on Protection of the Rights and Interests of the Elderly, which came into effect on July 1, does not detail exactly how frequently a child should contact parents, simply saying that “overlooking or neglecting the elderly” is prohibited. As a result, what defines neglect is at the discretion of the parent. Because parents are the ones who determine whether they want to go to court and seek damages, using a service on Taobao is not necessarily a solution.

Some experts are saying that the fact that these types of lucrative businesses have popped up highlights the reason  the laws were put in place. “Paying for surrogate visits is a natural development, this only reflects the fact that there is a demand,” Long Donglin, director of the Kinming Academy of Social Sciences, told local newspaper Yunnan Daily.

This isn’t the first time Taobao vendors have turned cultural “burdens” into entrepreneurial opportunities. During the holiday seasons, China’s single women find themselves renting boyfriends off of Taobao to take home with them to meet the family, to help temporarily alleviate pressures to get married or have a boyfriend. 

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