Texas State University-San Marcos
China is about to undergo a stunning demographic transformation, a rapidly aging population. Despite the influence of the aging process on women’s lives, very few works analyze the interconnectedness of gender and aging. This article analyzes the interrelationship between China’s aging population, gender inequality, and elderly women’s poverty. Since gender issues in aging have been ignored, idealistic models to promote the well-being of the elderly fail to address the specific needs of aging women. Traditional attitudes in China toward caring for the elderly have met serious challenges as a result of China’s economic reform, one-child policy, and social acceptance of individualistic development and competitive life-styles. I argue that a fruitful way for dealing with the “graying” population of China is not to abandon her traditions but to call upon a Confucian notion of reciprocity that provides guidelines for the respect and care for the elderly through a joint effort of family, community, and government support. When properly revised and infused with gender consciousness, the Confucian tradition points the way to attending specifically to the needs of disadvantaged elderly women.
While Confucianism emphasizes how humans can live together and create a just society with a benevolent government, it, like Daoism, points to the importance of harmony with nature. I will argue that the needs of elderly Chinese will be well-served not just by interweaving gender consciousness into the tradition of Confucianism, but also by emphasizing an ecological consciousness; cooperation with nature will foster limited growth within a steady state economy and sustainable development that will help all elderly, both women and men, in the long run.