Over a million Chinese families lost their only adult children, end up with an empty nest

May 10, 2012Jing Gao2 Comments, , , , , , ,

From Guangzhou Daily

They are mostly in their 50s. For over 20 years, they had lived happily with their only children. Just as they started to prepare new homes and dowry for their progeny, unexpected calamities took away lives of these children. From then on, they have been living with sufferings and pangs of pain unimaginable to other people: at their age, it is practically impossible for them to conceive again. On festive occasions for reunion of the extended family, they avoid relatives and friends, as it agonizes them to see people enjoying quality time. But images of their children remain clear and distinct in their minds and often make them tearful. They call themselves “the childless.” How are they going to spend their remaining years? They said, they want to huddle together for warmth and establish a nursing home that only belongs to their group.

This extra emotional toll is caused by the country’s draconian One Child Policy.

Misery acquaints men with strange bedfellows. Couples bereft of their only children turn to the Internet for people who share their woes and seek emotional comfort. Even their nicknames on the web exude sorrow. In the past May Day holiday, over 40 parents, going by names like “Qianying (Beautiful Shadow)”, “Wangshihuiyi (Memories of the Past)”, “Xiaoyaliuzhu (Stay Here Little Girl)” and “Kanke (Misfortune)”, who lost an only child in their later years and got to know one another on the web, gathered in Hubei province, because then they “were able to drop the pretense of being strong and pour out their feelings, uninhibited.”


The mother lost her only son a year ago. She has been drained of tears.


Left: Yang Fei, an only child, died in a car accident last year at 23. Right: Yang Fei’s parents at the meeting.

The reporter was there to note down their conversations, and probably nothing was more heartrending than their words.

“Xiaoyaliuzhu (Stay Here Little Girl)” sobbed as she recounted her saddest moment, “You know, a black-haired person dying before a white-haired person is highly unfilial behavior. That’s why, according to old people in our hometown, a dead child must be dressed in heavy mourning clothes before being cremated. After all, it is a sin if a child fails to bury his parents himself.”

As she spoke, a few women listening to her broke into tears.

As the Chinese saying goes, men only weep when deeply hurt. “Laoguai (Old Weirdo)” who hails from Taicang, Jiangsu province, comes across as light-hearted in the group. He loves to crack jokes, but when talking about his son, he tends to get upset, “When my son was sick, I promised my son that I would father only him in my life. After my son passed away, people from the Bureau of Civil Affairs gave me several photos of children that they claimed were orphans, and suggested that I adopt one. I refused, point blank. I was already old, but those kids were too young. By the time he grows even a little older, I would have been in my 70s or even 80s, how am I gonna care for him?”

“Qianying (Beautiful Shadow)” was the organizer of this meeting. She has met many people who lost an only child in the city of Wuhan, Hubei province. One of them, a high-ranking government official, gave her a very deep impression. “During the days, he is always wearing suits and leather shoes while holding the decent job. But at night, after he gets home, he becomes a totally different person. He would hold his child’s ash urn in the arms all night and mumble, ‘kid, father is hugging you,’ as he falls asleep. He has been sleeping like this on the floor for eight years.”

In addition to the pain itself, other types of emotional distress have also made their life very difficult. A careless word from another person may immediately touch the raw nerve of these bereft parents, who are hypersensitive and vulnerable.

A couple from Zhuhai, Guangdong province, are among the oldest in this group. They have kept the loss of their only son a secret from most friends. They go to the neighborhood recreation room every day and participate in dance, singing and other group activities just as any other retiree would do. But every time others ask them about their son, they choose to tell the lie. “People ask me, ‘Why I have never met your son?’ I would say, ‘He is in the army and too busy to come home often.’ Then they will go on to ask, ‘What about your grandson?’ I would answer, ‘They are a DINK family and don’t have a kid.’”

The childless dread any gathering during the holidays. Each Chinese New Year (Spring Festival), they shun friends and relatives by hiding themselves in remote retreats to spend the long vacation or staying in spa and massage centers for seven days. They never attend any wedding ceremony, birthday parties or anniversaries either,because the mere sight of it evokes memories of their children. They call themselves ‘the psychologically impaired’ and believe they will never recover themselves.


They thought about conceiving with a baby with the help of modern technologies, but they soon dismissed the thought themselves. “Do I have so much money to try for pregnancy? Will the baby be as healthy as normal babies?” They often ask themselves these questions. A tragedy in Guangzhou not long ago has further daunted these parents. After losing their only son, Ms. Wen and Mr. Liu spent 120,000 yuan on IVF treatment and got twin boy and girl.  After raising the pigeon pair for ten years, the couple, having long been suffering from depression, committed suicide.

Among the 40-odd participants in this meeting of childless parents, just one fourth of them are male. Many women, after experiencing the death of their children, lost their husbands, who either died of illness after their health collapsed as the result of deep grief, or left home altogether and never reappeared.

Some participants have been childless for as long as 10 years. Some did not belong to this special group until a year ago. Some are poor. Some come from a family of means. Some took a 15-hour train ride from Gansu province in the Northwest all the way to Wuhan in central China. But no one cares about it any more. Many told the reporter that after their children’s death, mundane things, such as fame, power and money, no matter matter to them. Their constant worry, however, is who, if at all, will be by their bedside when they die.

“Kanke (Misfortune)” from Tianshui, Gansu province, said that her biggest wish, which used to be to see her son graduate, now is to live in dignity and die in dignity, “I don’t want there to be no one signing the consent form when I am at hospital awaiting a surgery.”

“Jingjiniao (Thorn Bird)” from Deyang, Sichuan province, said, “There is no one to see us buried. I hope that in our twilight years, we can have a safety net.”

“Beautiful Shadow” founded the first discussion group three years ago on QQ, China’s wildly popular instant messaging service. Now there are three of them, and they have more than 1,000 registered members. She said the common wish of the members is to open a nursing home exclusively for the childless, because that will be the sole place where they can take off their psychological flak jacket and better care for one another, “Old people in other nursing homes all have children, as a child’s signature is required when they enter the facility, and their children come to visit often. We, on the one hand, would have procedural problems if we enter one of those nursing homes. On the other, we can’t emotionally bear to see children of others pay visit to the parents.”

So far, China has no statistics relating to the exact number of families that have lost an only child in their later years. According to the latest census data, China has at least 190 million singletons aged from 15 to 30. Another report released by Ministry of Health in 2010 shows that the death rate in the age group 15 to 30 is 40 out of 100,000. That means each year in China at least 76,000 singletons aged between 15 and 30 die, resulting in 76,000 fragmented families.

Taicang county, Jiangsu province, where “Old Weirdo” is from, has a population of 717,200. According to “Old Weirdo,” there are altogether 115 families that are undergoing his sufferings. If the ratio remains the same on the national scale, then there must be at least over a million families bereft of an only child.

Selected comments from Sina Weibo:

金水灶:This reminds me of the Yao Qingwei couple, who turned their son to the police but were still unable to save his life. In addition to the pain of losing their son, they had to suffer from the agony of sending their son to the gallows. //@又纯又美: The most despicable thing is they had to be sterilized!!!!!! //@只配抬杠: One Child Policy is extremely evil! In terms both of rights and freedom and social stability.

Phoenix喵丫:Sigh~ It is a problem caused by the era. At 17, I lost a school friend my age. At 18, a classmate who had just got into college suddenly passed away. Even at the time I was thinking, how miserable the rest of their parents’ lives would be! Honestly, from the very beginning, only straight arrows in the city are bound by One Child Policy. As regard for businessmen, those that are not employed by a work unit, or rural residents…There are just too many extra births. And the outcome of this policy has already begun to surface.

灿若梅儿:My tears are welling up like streams… Must live well!

KKGuYing:Therefore, the most basic thing we can do for our beloved families is take care of ourselves as much as we can. Dying from overwork is not worth it. Committing a suicide is even more irresponsible.

Phoebe_zhenzhen[泪]For the sake of the country, (they) lost their families. This is an absolute human tragedy.

鹰姿娘: Back then, Wenchuan earthquake exposed this type of agony on a great scale to us. But people only saw the Act of God in it. They didn’t realize that the manmade factors increased pains brought by the calamity.

千夜熊猫:If you have become a father or a mother, if you had also lost your only child, would you still say the same thing? Learn to put yourself in others’ shoes, and that helps you understand so many more things. //@飞扬军事云飞扬: I don’t think One Child Policy is a big mistake. If the country doesn’t control its population and let it increase freely, the economy will collapse and the country will become orderless. sure, there will be costs, but I think it is worth the costs~

法治门徒邵铭: This reminds me of Feng Xiang, the vice propaganda chief in Beichuan county who killed himself after losing his only son to the earthquake, and also the Yao family….

米可价值投资:Thumb up to the Guangzhou Daily article. It has the humanitarian feeling. //@变态辣椒: Will parents of only children be willing to send their progeny to battlefields? //@罗昌平: The happiness of family reunion that are deprived of. //@孙菁sun: Those people who clamor for a war between China and the Philippines, think about these mothers. The country did not even grant them a right to give birth (to a second child) and ask for loyalty in return. Will those warmongers be willing to go to the front?

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2 comments to “Over a million Chinese families lost their only adult children, end up with an empty nest”

  1. Blacksoth | May 13, 2012 | Permalink Reply

    The one child policy was an answer to a question no one asked, and a problem that was correcting itself. Just more harmonious law for the heavenly kingdom.

  2. Sammy | June 2, 2012 | Permalink Reply

    This policy has been a long time I think establish by Chairman Mao and it’s subordinates at the Beijing capital goverment officials. The one child policy seems to be good as a fact but some people wish they have more childs just like democracy United States of America. Somehow this is against the law of China if you have multiple childs which is still valid as a law; all people got married in the soil of China has a mandatory law to have only one child and anyone who has more than one siblings will be punish no matter what.

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