Caixin
Feb 22, 2017 06:59 PM
SOCIETY & CULTURE

Closer look: Assassination Report Has China Talking About Ageism

(Beijing) — Three unrelated events in recent days have touched a raw nerve in China where age-based discrimination remains rampant — especially in workplaces — even though the government is trying push back the retirement age to cushion the impact of an increasingly aging population.

An internet user who claims to be a former employee of Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd., one of China’s leading telecom equipment makers, accused the company in a widely read online post last week of laying off workers above the age of 34. The writer also said those older than 40 at Huawei’s R&D departments were shown the door.

In response to a Caixin inquiry, Huawei dismissed the accusations as “sheer lies.”

Several current Huawei employees told Caixin that the accusation was unfounded, but they said it’s common at Huawei for employees over the age of 45 to be told to “retire” even though law allows men to work until the age of 60 and female employees until 50.

Age-based discrimination at the workplace is a deep-seated problem not just at private companies, but also in the state sector in China.

For example, the national exams to recruit civil servants are open only to applicants aged 18 to 35, and those above 40 if they have a master’s or doctoral degree.

In addition, it’s common for recruiters to explicitly state in job ads that they're hiring people no older than 35. But it is also an often-unspoken issue in society.

Shortly after the Feb. 14 assassination of Kim Jung Nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jung Un, a particular news report referred to a female suspect in the slaying as a “middle-aged” woman. A screenshot of the report went viral on the Chinese internet.

Age is a particularly thorny issue for women in China. Unmarried females above the age of 27 are often stigmatized as “sheng nü,” or “leftover women.”

Another online post about a news feature on Chinese pop singer Zhao Lei has been circulated widely as it describes Zhao’s mother as “being old” when she conceived Zhao at the age of 34.

Caixin reporters were unable to trace the two original news articles.

But these three online posts had the Chinese internet buzzing about the handling of age-related issues.

One internet user said she should start looking for a nursing home because she just turned 30. Another online commentator mused whether he should plan to “celebrate his good fortune and longevity after he turns 40.” It is custom in China to have a big birthday bash when someone turns 80 or 90 years old to celebrate their long life.

Under Chinese law, male factory workers and government employees can receive their pension payment only after the age of 60, and female workers are entitled to such payments after they turn 50.

As China’s population continues to gray rapidly, the government plans to roll out policies before the end of this year that will compel all workers to phase in postponing their respective retirements until they’re 65, beginning in 2022.

But the country does not have specific anti-discrimination laws based on race, age or gender similar to those seen in many developed countries such as the United States. This makes it difficult to root out these intrinsic social biases.

A 2014 survey of 3,000 people by non-governmental organization Canton Public Opinion Research Center in Guangzhou found that 54% of the respondents felt they were discriminated at the workplace or during recruitment interviews. The figure shot up to 63% for those aged 51 to 60. Many in this group said they had encountered clear discrimination as a result of their age, according to the survey.

At the end of 2015, more than 16% of China’s population was over 60, and 1 in 10 was 65 or older, which is well past the international threshold for a “silvering population,” according to official statistics.

Meanwhile, the country’s average life expectancy has risen by 1.5 years for both men and women from 2010 to 2015. It stood at just over 76 years in 2015 for both genders and was expected to go up to 77.3 years by 2020, according to government statistics.

Did you ever feel you were overlooked at a job interview because of your age, or have you encountered any form of age-based discrimination? Please tell us your story or share your views at news@caixin.com.

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