Your cranky mom could get you fined for not visiting her enough

Apr 15, 2016 at 1:40 p.m. ET
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Feeling guilty about not calling home for a couple of weeks? Well, it could be a lot worse — people in China who ignore their parents could face huge legal and financial consequences if they don’t start paying them a bit more attention.

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Shanghai officials have announced a new policy, going into effect on May 1, that will allow parents to sue children who don’t visit or talk to them on a regular basis. If successful, courts have the right to order kids to visit, and those who don’t comply will pay a price — a hefty price. Their credit scores could be blacklisted, affecting their ability to open a bank account or take out a loan.

Surely, forcing people to see their parents is more likely to make them want to keep their distance. What do you talk about with someone who has dragged you through court to make you spend time with them?

According to Chinese Confucianism, an ancient philosophy still followed closely by modern Chinese society, filial piety (respect for the elderly) is crucial, meaning adult kids have a moral obligation to visit their parents. But is this all that’s behind the state’s decision to force offspring to "visit or send greetings often?" Reference News, an outlet managed by state agency Xinhua News, noted that Shanghai is struggling to cope with an aging population, and that filial visits may lead to a much-needed contribution toward pension costs. So is this about morals or money?

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It isn’t the first time the Chinese state has intervened in family matters. The communist country announced a one-child policy in 1979 with the aim of controlling population growth to encourage economic development. In October 2015, it amended the law to establish a two-child policy to try to solve the problem of an ever-increasing retired population being supported by a reduced younger population.

Every country has its own customs, its own way of doing things that the rest of the world might not be able to relate to. But all that aside, nobody should be forced into visiting their parents. Sure, in an ideal world we’d all call our moms on a weekly basis and have our parents over for dinner at least once a month. The thing is, relationships are complicated. Some people have reasons for cutting ties with their family — reasons that are nobody else's business, and shouldn't be subject to law enforcement.

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However old we are, while our parents are alive we’re still the children. And those who have had difficult upbringings really don’t need to be forced into maintaining an unhealthy relationship. Wherever we live.

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