February 1, 2007｜China
Executive Adviser, Kyushu Shanghai Office, Japan
Last year I flew to China 23 times on business. Visiting China 23 times in one year is nothing unusual for me. Last year, however, every time I went to China, I almost invariably came across wedding ceremonies wherever I went, and I was mystified as to why this was.
Well, on the flight the last time I returned to Fukuoka from Shanghai, I read an article in the Chinese newspaper The Far Eastern Times (Dōngfāng Shíbào) that was oddly convincing. That was it!—in China, 2007 was a “Golden Pig Year” which only comes around once every 60 years. As you know, the “pig” has symbolized “wealth” in China since ancient times. For example, the following custom is well known; when an emperor passed away, to be blessed with power and wealth in the next world as well, the body was dressed in “jade clothing”, a “jade cicada” (the cicada being a symbol of rebirth) was placed in the mouth and a “jade pig” put in a clenched hand, and buried with a variety of grave goods.
With this year being a “Golden Pig Year” newly-wed Chinese women in their droves have apparently been aiming to give birth in the “Golden Pig Year” with the aim that any children born be blessed with good fortune; in Beijing and Shanghai, etc., children that will be born this year are expected to number twice those of last year, and those concerned with obstetrics and gynecology are alarmed by the shortage of staff. And the cry for help will evidently not just be confined to obstetrics and gynecology, but will be heard at the chalkface as well, because births to young female teachers are increasing and there will be a mad scramble to secure temporary instructors.
I will now go off on a bit of tangent. China, as you know, is the country with the largest population in the world and the One Child Policy has been in place from the end of the 1970s. Nearly 30 years have passed since then, and in a sense it could be said to have achieved great results from the point of view of the curbing of population growth.
However, when you take a peek at the population structure now, you can see that China is storming towards an aging society at breakneck pace. In 1994, the proportion of the total population over sixty was 7.4%, but in 2005 it exceeded 11%, and before you know it will pass 30% in 2030 and 50% in 2050 —that is, with half of the total population being elderly, there will be major repercussions for Chinese society.
Through the raising of people’s living standards, and the rise in the level of medicine, the average life expectancy has rapidly been increasing in China too. If things continue at the same rate, one young couple will have to take care of four or more elderly people. In China, however, as every household has two breadwinners, when the parents become aged, and if they fall ill or become bedridden, there will be no one to care for them.
Today in both Japan and China, various kinds of interchange are taking place, and I hope for the active development of interchange related to the aging population problem in the very near future, and that best use is made in solving China’s aging population problem of the know-how which Japan has accumulated in measures to deal with an aging population.
And to return to the original theme, as China has its “Golden Pig Year”, if Japan makes a “Golden Rat Year”, and follows the example of the rat with its multiple offspring, I hope that next year is one with many babies.