The Perception of Neighbourly Relationships of Older People in Urban China

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In Chinese society where the values of communal reciprocity and collective responsibility predominate, neighbourly help is conventionally perceived as a valuable source of support for older people. Yet, since market reform in China in the late 1970s, the transition from a collective socialist economy to a competitive market economy has transformed societal values on issues such as individuality, privacy, and responsibility, which subsequently changed people’s neighbourly relationships. Based on thirty-nine interviews with older people and expert informants, including academics, government official, local Residents Committee officers, and NGO staff in two major Chinese cities, Beijing and Guangzhou, this research examines the changing perception of neighbourly relationship as a form of old-age support. It shows how a value shift from collective responsibility to privacy and self-responsibility in the market economy has eroded the support network for older people, rendering them prone to exclusion from social relations in the neighbourhood. The findings show that relying on the self-initiative of individuals to adopt the practice of mutual help is unrealistic and a greater involvement of the state is called for in the connection of older people to resources in the neighbourhood.