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China's 'Demographic Tsunami'

The one-child policy makes caring for the elderly a looming concern

Wang Fuchuan lies in bed wearing a quilted black jacket, with two comforters pulled up to his chin to keep out the chilly November air. The heating at the Beijing Songtang Caring Hospice is broken, and the 90-year-old’s nostrils are stuffed with toilet paper to stop perpetual dripping. Cockroaches scurry across the floor of his room, which has no toilet or running water. His possessions, a few articles of clothing, are in a plastic bag under his bed next to a pink plastic wash bowl with a sliver of soap. His only entertainment is a transistor radio.

Wang counts himself lucky. While he has no family or savings, he fought against the Japanese and the Kuomintang in the 1940s, so the government pays the clinic’s monthly fee of 2,000 yuan ($315). His 200-yuan pension buys food. “A lot of people my age can’t afford to be here,” Wang says. “The food isn’t too good, but I have nothing else to complain about.”