The grown children of elderly Chinese parents will be required by law to visit them, under new legislation that comes into effect this week, official media reported.
The new rules form part of an amendment to China's existing Law on Protection of the Rights and Interests of the Elderly People, and requires family members to visit the elderly more often, as well as outlawing domestic violence against older people, the China Daily newspaper reported.
China had 185 million people at or above the age of 60 by the end of 2011, about 13.7 percent of the total population, government figures show.
Officials have predicted that one-third of China's population will be over the age of 60 by 2050, and the law appears to be directed towards the needs of this sector of the population in an era where access to pensions, healthcare and secure accommodation is far from universal.
The law states that adult children have a responsibility to take care of their aged parents, both economically and psychologically.
It adds that elderly people are free to marry whom they choose, where they are legally free to do so, although the responsibility of grown children to support their parents is constant, regardless of the older person's marital status.
However, the law does not define an appropriate frequency of visits, nor any penalty for adult children who do not comply, sparking criticism from legal experts.
Zheng Zhuyuan, honorary professor at Indiana's Ball State University, said more specific provisions would be needed for the law to be a meaningful way of ensuring the care of elders.
"Are they supposed to visit them once every two weeks? Or once a month?" Zheng said. "This should be specified, and a punishment issued if you don't visit them within the specified period."
Zheng appeared unsurprised by the state's interference in family matters, however.
"In China, filial piety is the No. 1 virtue. You can't do without it," he said.
Beijing-based lawyer Li Jinglin agreed that the law was too vaguely worded to be useful.
"They have turned this law into a call for moral behavior rather than a law," Li said. "The law has no moral scope."
"It's not there to exhort people to do good deeds."
Li said there were many other examples of shoddy law-making in China, however.
"To a large degree, [some laws] are a sort of manifesto," he said.
The new rules also grant up to 20 days a year of home leave to employees whose parents live far away, although in today's cut-throat labor market, these are likely to go unclaimed.
"I want to visit my parents often, but I don't have enough money and time, and I don't believe my employer will be happy," the Global Times newspaper quoted Beijing-based Chen Jian, whose family lives in the northwestern region of Xinjiang, as saying.
Critics told official media that government support for the elderly in the form of adequate pensions and social welfare would be a more appropriate way to ensure their well-being.
Reported by Yang Jiadai for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.