Si Kunfan, 83, runs a hotline for elderly people in Beijing.


BEIJING - Kleenex in hand, the retired farmer perched behind the plaintiff's table in a rural courtroom and wept as she complained to the judge about her eldest son.

For the last year and a half, 78-year-old Li Lanyu said, she's been asking him to visit and provide her with grain and cooking oil. "The son has forgotten the mother!" she cried.

Her son wasn't there to defend himself. Although he tends a plot of land, he leaves for weeks at a time to toil as a construction worker hundreds of miles away. His wife and daughter told the judge he earns just $166 a month. They said they can afford only a fraction of the food Li Lanyu wants.

Until recently, her son may have been a disappointment, even an embarrassment. But now, he may also be a lawbreaker: A new statute took effect July 1 mandating that family members attend to the spiritual needs of the elderly and visit them "often."

The "visit your parents" measure is just one component of a multipronged effort to remind people to take an active role in their parents' lives.

Some younger people believe the government's campaign reflects concern about the demands that a swelling population of seniors and a shrinking group of workers will put on state finances. Authorities, they say, want individuals to bear a significant share of the cost of elder care.

Nearly 15 percent of the country's population - more than 200 million people - is now 60 or older, according to the China Research Center on Aging. Because of increasing life spans and the nation's one-child policy, by 2053, seniors will make up about 35 percent, or 487 million people.