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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 August 2007, 16:46 GMT 17:46 UK
China's elderly care conundrum
James Reynolds
BBC News, Zhangmutou, southern China

Jie Jie Cai is four months old. He sits in a green chair by the balcony, and gets plenty of attention.

Jie Jie Cai and family
Jie Jie Cai will face a huge burden of care when he grows up

Attention from his mother Jia Rui, his father Wen Kang, grandfather number one Wang Jun, grandmother number one Chun Hong, grandfather number two Zi Jin, and grandmother number two Chun Ping.

They each follow everything that Jie Jie does - which, at the age of four months, is not all that much.

Right now Jie Jie has absolutely no idea how much his family is counting on him.

When he gets older, he will have to support them all. Six adults - and just one child. This is the effect of China's one-child policy.

"We want you to look after all of us," Jie Jie's father tells him. "Mum, dad, grandpa and grandma one, grandpa and grandpa two."

Heavy burden

China may be forging ahead as a world power. But it is also beginning to face the long-term logic of its one-child policy - too many old people and not enough young people.

In other words, fewer workers supporting more and more elderly relatives.

Wang Dan
Wang Dan works to support her elderly relatives

Twenty-year-old Wang Dan knows what babies like Jie Jie will face when they grow up.

She sends back the money she makes at the Betta factory in southern China to support her parents and her grandmother. Many others do the same.

People like Wang Dan are beginning to carry a heavy burden.

In this, the world's most populous country, factory owners are now finding it difficult to get enough workers.

At the Betta factory, several benches of sewing machines are idle - there are not enough workers to fill the spaces.

"It's very difficult," says William Wang, who runs the factory, "and it's getting more and more difficult. Now there are a lot more factories and fewer workers because of the one-child policy. Costs are going up. It's not looking good."

Guaranteed success

By contrast, the San He care home in Beijing is full of bustle.

The residents play their afternoon board game of mahjong with great intensity. Two retired police officers, now in their eighties, play a game of pool.

William Wang
William Wang said it is becoming difficult to find workers

The owners of this home have no problem filling spaces here. Starting up an old people's home is a guaranteed way of doing good business in China.

This particular home used to be a primary school - until everyone decided it made much more sense to focus on the elderly instead.

"I used to work as the head teacher of the kindergarten, and now I'm in charge of the old people's home," says Wang Shuyuan.

"Because of the one-child policy there are fewer children in China. So, many schools are changing into old people's homes. It's very common now."

On the ground floor, the residents queue up for lunch. Some of them have pensions to pay the care home fees. Others rely on their children to pay for them.

In the next few decades, this burden will get heavier and heavier.

China will have 400 million elderly people. Who is going to feed them all?

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