China: Awakening Giant Developing Solutions to Population Aging

Ning Jackie Zhang, MD, PhD, MPH; Man Guo, PhD; Xiaoying Zheng, MD, PhD


Gerontologist. 2012;52(5):589-596. 

In This Article

Implications for Other Countries

In the era of global aging, China is receiving unprecedented attention as its economy and population aging are accelerating simultaneously. How to allocate resources among competing needs of various priorities and balance the sustainability of economic growth and the moderation of population aging is an impressive challenge for an awakening giant.

China's experiences may be useful to other countries in the following areas as low fertility and population aging become pronounced in developed countries, newly industrialized countries, and some Latin American countries. First, chronic diseases: China's population aging has led to a rising tide of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) and resultant disability. NCDs have become China's major health threat and are associated with more than 8% of 10.3 million annual deaths and about 70% of its total disease burden (Lancet Editorial, 2011). One of the first strategies China implemented to prepare for the challenge to control and prevent chronic diseases was to stress disease prevention as a public health priority. In addition, the Chinese government emphasizes international collaborations with the World Health Organization and utilizes state-of-the-art technology and skills in its chronic disease control measures.

Second, aging education: To satisfy the growing need for scientific gerontological knowledge and methods, the Chinese government, research institutes, and media actively developed aging education and health promotion. For example, one popular TV program titled "Yangshen Tang" presents expert panels to disseminate scientific knowledge regarding aging mechanisms, chronic diseases, traditional Chinese medicine, lifestyles, mental health, and diet. These kinds of programs have been well received not only by older people and their families, but also by younger generations who seek ways to cope with work stress and improve overall health.

Third, culture: Filial piety and the spirit of Confucianism have been deeply rooted in the social norm and Chinese culture over the course of China's history. The enactment of elder law, which is the Law on Protection of the Rights and Interests of the Older People, in 1996, puts a long-standing norm into a legal format. Last year, a draft amendment of China's elder law revised the requirement that "adult children of older parents are required to visit their parents regularly and must care for their spiritual needs and cannot neglect or isolate them" (China Daily, 2011a). The traditional culture of filial piety is a great advantage for China and other aging countries as it legitimizes informal caregivers and strengthens family support. Certainly, China's experiences or lessons could not simply be replicated in other countries as each country possesses its own culture, politics, and economic and social complexity.

Aging is a challenge most countries must face immediately or in the future whether they are developed or developing, large, or small. Bearing the largest aging population in the world, China is aware of its challenges and opportunities and has been proactively developing and seeking solutions to its rapid population aging. As a complex multifaceted process, the management of population aging requires wisdom and innovation.

As Napoleon also said, "Lead the ideas of your time and they will accompany and support you; fall behind them and they drag you along with them." If China views population aging as an opportunity to advance its economy, this giant will create a useful model for the rest of the world.