Ageing in Rural China: Migration and Care Circulation

This paper applies the concept of care circulation to the processes involved in the care of old people in rural China,an area which has hitherto been predominantly located in a quantitatively based intergenerational transfer framework. Drawing upon a qualitative study of rural families in the context of rural to urban migration, this article examines the multidirectional and asymmetrical exchanges of caregiving and care-receiving and seeks to provide a more nuanced understanding of the impact of migration upon ageing and familial care in rural China. First, going beyond a unidirectional flow or two-way transfer, this article reveals that care circulates between different family members, in different locations, to differing degrees, over the life course. This circulation framework enables an examination of intra-generational dynamics as well as intergenerational relations. Second, this article draws attention to the mediating factors that impact upon the ways in which adult children care for the older generation. It reveals how the employment status of migrating adult children, the temporal dimension of migration and family life cycle of migrating children as well as family relations between the older generation and adult child generation are critical factors. These factors also contribute to the quality of care provided. Finally, while confirming existing scholarship that gender is an important dimension in structuring old age support in rural China, this article calls for a more differentiated approach among generations of women and between regions, revealing the ways in which local migration history interacts with intergenerational dynamics to determine the cohort of women that endure the greatest burden of care.