China’s pensions gap forces rural peasants to labor into old age

China’s pensions gap forces rural peasants to labor into old age

  • A lack of support for elderly rural residents has become a growing issue in China, amid a demographic crisis and pensions that ‘cover only oil and salt.’

In most parts of rural China, the elderly must continue to rely on their own labor, their children or their savings to support themselves in their twilight years.

Chen Yunfeng, the chief of Yancang village in central China, has grown dismayed by the disadvantages that aging rural peasants face. “We plant grains, but grains are cheap,” Chen said while puffing cigarettes under a no-smoking sign in his little office. “And we are getting old, but there’s little welfare.”

According to Chen, who is in his late fifties, a peasant from the village can receive a monthly pension of just 112 yuan ($16) after the retirement age of 60 – a tiny sum that is well below the average daily wage in Chinese cities and far from enough to support even a frugal rural lifestyle. It is also much lower than the national average pension payment of 2,000 yuan ($290) per month for retirees from urban jobs.

The lack of adequate pensions for China’s rural residents is not a new issue. A secure retirement pension remained a privilege reserved solely for urban residents until 2009, when then-president Hu Jintao and then-premier Wen Jiabao started to build up a national pension system for rural dwellers.