By Austin Sheeley

The world’s population is aging. And many countries—including Canada, France, India, Puerto Rico, and Ukraine—now legally require adult children to support their parents. In some countries these laws are more extreme than in others. For example, over half US states have such laws, but they’re not well known and usually not enforced. In Singapore on the other hand, not only can parents sue children for an allowance, if the children don’t pay up they may face prison time.

But perhaps the most extreme case is China, where in December 2012 the elder care law was changed to include not just financial support but also emotional support, meaning those who don’t adequately love their parents can be sued.

According to a bulletin by the AARP, “For thousands of years, filial piety was China’s Medicare, Social Security and long-term care, all woven into a single family virtue.” Webster’s defines filial piety as “reverence for parents considered in Chinese ethics the prime virtue and the basis of all human relations.” Confucius espoused the virtue thousands of years ago, and today children still grow up reading The Twenty-Four Filial Exemplars—a morality tale in which children do everything from strangling tigers to cleaning bedpans for the sake of their parents.

And yet, in the chaotic social landscape of China—where the population is aging fast and many parents only have one child to turn to—filial piety seems to be getting lost. Over the last 15 years, more than a thousand Chinese parents have sued their children for support. And with the elder care law now requiring even more, these law suits aren’t likely to stop any time soon.