Methuselah himself might have struggled to win a place at one of Beijing’s most popular old people’s homes: the waiting list is currently 100 years long.
Such is the shortage of elderly care in China’s major cities that there are more than 10,000 applicants waiting for the 1,100 beds on offer in the capital’s No. 1 Social Welfare Home, according to the Beijing Evening News.
A staff member at the home told the newspaper that anyone applying now would have to wait a lifetime to get in. Numbers are so tight, he said, that only a dozen places were coming up each year.
The public care home is located in the central district of Chaoyang, offers good care, and charges between £70 and £355 a month for a berth, making it extremely popular.
Elderly Chinese have traditionally lived with, and been looked after by, their children.
However, China is ageing rapidly. By 2015 there will be 220 million over-60s and within 40 years the number will rise to 500 million, one-third of a population that is expected to be just shy of 1.5 billion.
Encouraged by Chairman Mao, there was a baby boom in the early decades of Communist rule, followed in 1979 by the one-child policy and a sudden fall in the number of births.
Today, around 450,000 elderly in the Chinese capital live apart from their families, but Beijing only has around 215 public nursing homes and 186 private homes, or roughly three beds for every 100 seniors.
The city is rapidly expanding its facilities, and has promised 120,000 beds for old people by 2015, according to the Beijing Municipal Civil Affairs Bureau. But prices in the private sector can be steep: one luxury care home on the outskirts of the city charges 250,000 yuan (£25,000) a year.
The government’s policies are likely to continue with the basic concept of ‘nine-seven-three’: 90 per cent of old people will live at home, seven per cent will get government care and three per cent will live in private facilities.
Shanghai, meanwhile, has also drawn up plans to ramp the number of elderly care homes and to import carers from other provinces in China.
“We have been open for more than a decade, but we always struggled to fill our 60 beds,” said Gu Yuqing, the sprightly 74-year-old owner of Ai Wan Qing, a care home in Shanghai’s suburbs. “That all changed two years ago. And in the past two months we have been getting constant calls. We are full to bursting,” she added.
“Beforehand, young people worried that if they put their parents into a home, the neighbours would criticise them behind their backs. But that has all changed now. And for older people, they sometimes prefer to be independent.” Mrs Gu is now eyeing a project in Shanghai’s suburbs where her residents will be able to play golf and tennis.