The millennium-old Chongyang Festival falls on the ninth day of the ninth month of the Chinese lunar calendar and fell on Thursday this year. It is an occasion for children to pay their respects to their elderly parents.
Sociological research released in July on suicide among rural elderly people suggests that the phenomenon in China is so bad that it can no longer be neglected.
In urbanizing China, hundreds of millions of young people growing up in rural areas rush to coastal cities as migrant workers. When they have made some money and want to settle down, they usually choose to bring their children, who were once raised by grandparents, to the city and leave the elderly at home unattended.
Liu Yanwu, a lecturer at Wuhan University, was in charge of the six-year study, which began in 2008. He told Xinhua that the suicide rate among the rural elderly has jumped from 100 per 100,000 to 500 per 100,000 in two decades. Xiao Shuiyuan, a professor at Central South University, added that the suicide rate of Chinese senior citizens is triple the rate of other groups.
Liu Yanwu cited lack of care from children as a main motivation for suicide among seniors. He said that making sure the elderly are well cared for is very important in Chinese tradition, but the pressures of urban life leave the city's newcomers no time for their rural parents.
The lack of elderly care facilities in most of China's rural areas is making things worse. When left-behind rural elderly are unable to take care of themselves and nursing homes are not available, it is natural for them to feel desperate, said Gu Hui, a researcher with the Anhui Academy of Social Sciences.
For rural elderly people, suicide is common, said Liu Jingzhen, a village doctor in Hepu County. "Especially for those with serious illnesses or paralysis, suicide is 'good' for the children in many elderly people's minds, "said Liu.
People age 60 and over accounted for 14.9 percent of China's total population by the end of 2013, higher than the United Nations' 10 percent threshold for an "aging country," according to the Ministry of Civil Affairs.
Statistics also show that the number of disabled elders in China has increased by 1.5 million from 2012 to 2013. It is estimated by the Chinese government that the aging population will reach its peak in 20 years.