Neoliberalism and the Burden Narrative: A Case Study in a Private Long-Term Care Facility in Northeastern China
Historically, the main source of support for China’s elderly population has been family caregiving, with deep roots in the Confucian tradition of filial piety. Yet socioeconomic and demographic shifts in the past few decades have made it increasingly difficult for adult children to provide care for their elderly parents, and the number of private long-term care facilities (LTCFs) are growing as a response to the need and demand for an alternative form of eldercare. Existing research on long-term care facilities (LTCF) is limited and focuses on describing the circumstances that lead to the placement of Chinese elders in primarily government-run facilities in large cities. This ethnographic research study seeks to contribute to the current research by connecting a micro-level analysis of the experiences of the elderly Chinese residing in a county-level, privately-owned LTC facility in Northeastern China to the broader forces of China’s socioeconomic development and neoliberal ideology. Interviews with 10 residents and 4 employees of the facility reveal that neoliberalism has influenced the elderly’s conceptions of self and their relations to other residents, the facility staff, and their family and that it has influenced what the elderly expect and are willing to accept as care in old age. Neoliberal ideology is internalized by residents of the facility, who conceptualize their care needs as a burden on their family and facility staff. These findings demonstrate that the privatization of eldercare in China has contributed to the subversion of the social and relational aspects of care and has emphasized the individual responsibility of the elderly to regulate their own needs.