The first thing Yang Zaolun does after breakfast every day is to open e-mails from his sons -- it'sthe highlight of his day.
E-mails and phone calls link Yang and his wife in east China's Anhui Province with their two sons, one in the United States and the other in Beijing.
"We do not feel far from the children because we are in touch every day by e-mail," says Yang. Xia Yang, one of Yang's sons, haswritten over 2,000 e-mails to his parents in the past two and halfyears.
"Never travel far when your parents are still alive," goes a traditional Chinese saying. However, as times change, more young people work and live in other cities and even other countries, leaving their parents alone at home.
A survey shows that about 37.3 percent of elderly people live alone in urban areas and the percentage is 32.9 percent in the countryside.
"Distance means nothing if we care about each other from the heart," says Yang, whose family have just received a national Model Family Award for overcoming family difficulties with care and love.
The Model Family Award, issued by All-China Women's Federation (ACWF) once a year, is also part of the social efforts to strengthen family ties and maintain the traditional family values.
The Award, started in the 1950s, honored 100 families nationwide every year. This year, the number has been enlarged to 1,000, said Wang Yaling with the ACWF.
In 1992, Yang was suddenly struck down with a brain clot and became paralyzed. With special care from his wife and the two sons,Yang survived. Eventually, he walked again.
On Aug. 15 last year, Yang celebrated his 65th birthday with his wife alongside, as well as e-mail congratulations from the twosons.
In a society where people are moving around more freely and more frequently than ever, such close family ties are more precious, especially for elderly people, or the so-called "empty nesters" who live away from their children, Chinese sociologists say.
A recent survey shows that China currently has some 23.4 million "empty nesters" like the Yang couple. "They need love, care and contact with the outside world," says Tai Enpu, director of the China Gerontics Research Center.
People who live away from their parents could show the best care by phoning, says Xia Yang.
However, phone calls and e-mails are but remedial family-linking measures. For those families whose members live in the same city, children's home visit is the happiest thing expected bythe parents.
Following China's rapid economic development, more and more young people are busily occupied by their own business and spend less time with their parents. Surveys show that about 70 percent of urban young people rarely visit their parents at weekends. "This has increased the loneliness of elderly people," said Tai Enpu. "They need to talk with their children."
In recent years, a Chinese song titled "Go Home More Often", which reminds sons and daughters to care for their parents while building their own families, has won the hearts of the whole nation.
As China moves towards a graying society with 132 million elderly people, the government is trying to encourage more family care for the elderly. During this Spring Festival, or the Chinese lunar new year which fell on Jan. 22, China's commercial center Shanghai recruited 500 young volunteers to keep local "empty nesters" company on the festival eve.
(Xinhua News Agency February 14, 2004)