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UPDATED: December 17, 2007 NO.51 DEC. 20, 2007
Aging City Leads Way
The northern city of Dalian has become a model of care for the elderly that other Chinese cities are following

People often mistake 49-year-old Liu Yuling for the daughter of 93-year-old Cui Yuhai as Liu supports Cui during his twice-a-day stroll in the community garden. Liu spends over ten hours in Cui's 40-square- meter apartment every day. Since Cui's wife died two years ago, Liu has been the first person the elderly man sees when he wakes up in the morning and the person who says good night to him at his bedside. She cooks meals, washes his clothing, shops for his favorite snack food, keeps diaries on his health care and expenditure and listens to his stories. To better communicate with the elderly man, Liu even learned to master Cui's dialect.

"I wish I could have such a good daughter as her," Cui tells anyone who asks whether Liu is his daughter. "She treats me just like a good daughter would."

On a monthly salary of 400 yuan ($54) per month, Liu started to take care of Cui and his wife in 2004 as a housekeeper for the elderly, a system invented in the coastal city of Dalian of Liaoning Province in 2002.

Like Liu, who was laid off from a wool product factory in 2002, all housekeepers are unemployed workers who were retrained by the government. All of these housekeepers are registered and managed by government agencies. Their services are priced at a low level so that they are affordable to elderly citizens. Meanwhile, the government has ensured that their income from working as a housekeeper for the elderly won't affect their unemployment allowance. For elderly citizens who have no children and no income, the government pays for part or all of their home nurse services.

Up to last May, over 2,600 households in Dalian had enjoyed the services of a housekeeper, whose services are evaluated by their patrons. They can get a pay rise if they are promoted to a three-star or five-star housekeeper based on their service quality.

"This system of supporting the elderly has comforted the two groups of disadvantageous people, the elderly and the unemployed," said Han Yumin, a top civil affairs official of Shahekou District of Dalian, which employs over 726 housekeepers for the elderly.

As one of China's fastest aging cities, Dalian has 965,300 elderly citizens of 60 years old and above, accounting for 16.85 percent of total population. This is far above China's national average of 12.26 percent. It is estimated that by 2025 one in four of Dalian's citizens will be elderly.

"This fact of being an aging society since 1987 has propelled Dalian to lead other Chinese cities to explore new methods to satisfy the demands of the elderly," said Yang Fubin, Director of the social welfare department of Dalian Civil Affairs Bureau.

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