In October 2013, a Hong Kong student, Qin Nan, defended a thesis entitled “Fear of crime experienced by older Chinese in urban China”.
China has changed radically over the past 20 years, and some elderly Chinese may now feel lost in the new Chinese cities. These changes are both material and social. Many cities and neighbourhoods have been redeveloped. Senior residents may not recognise the city where they spent their entire lives. Chinese society has also evolved. People in their sixties or older have seen the end of a collective system and the adoption of individualistic values. The iron rice bowl has been broken. The eldest of these experienced the Cultural Revolution. They have suffered from hunger and other privations, and are now surrounded by commercial advertisements and live in cities where restaurants are everywhere.
Chinese seniors also tend to live alone: their opportunities for social interaction are dwindling. Because of urban redevelopment, relocation and the end of danwei, many have lost contact with their former neighbours. Family ties, although still quite strong, are weakening/being undermined. Younger generations may have to move to other provinces for job opportunities.
Because of this evolution, seniors have lost some of their bearings. And so, they may feel vulnerable in this modern urban environment.
As noted by the thesis’ author, several studies conducted in Western countries show that seniors are more likely to feel threatened in an urban environment than younger people.
Qin Nan’s thesis explores the way this phenomenon occurs in China, based on the case of communities in Kunming.
According to her results, Chinese seniors’ fear of crime depends on several factors. Some (for example, female gender) also apply to Western countries, but others are unique to China. Thus, the author argues that perceived fear of crime is weaker in the case of seniors who adhere to Chinese traditional values of “harmony”.
As noted by the author, the Chinese population is getting older, and issues related to this ageing population will undoubtedly become apparent. In order to reduce the anxiety of senior residents, Qin Nan formulates several recommendations to China’s government. Firstly, assistance to seniors must be reinforced and social welfare policies need to be harmonised among Chinese provinces. The author points out the role of media and rumours in inflaming fear of crime and advises authorities to better communicate on crime incidence.
Another point regards education. According to the author, China’s “culture of harmony” needs to be promoted to the population in order to prevent fear of crime, and more specifically designed-for-seniors campaigns should be launched.
This thesis shows us how important it is to preserve certain cultural values that empower the weakest categories of the population.