ExEAS Teaching Unit
Aging in East Asia: Selected Teaching Resources
General Reference
HARRIS, Diana K. Sociology of Aging. New York, NY: Harper Row, 1990.

General reference work on aging.
  • For China-related information, see pp. 75, 87-90, 93, 154, 229, 445.
  • For Japan-related information, see pp. 63-4, 72, 94-5, 105-8.
  • For information on the Chinese-American elderly, see pp. 227-8.
  • For information on the Japanese-American elderly, see pp. 229-30.
Secondary Readings

DAVIS, Deborah. Long Lives: Chinese Elderly and the Communist Revolution. Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 1991.

DAVIS, Deborah and Steven HARRELL, eds. Chinese Families in the Post-Mao Era. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.

See the following for specific information on the elderly:
  • “Dependents and Family Obligations,” pp. 17-20 in the “Introduction” by Davis and Harrell.
  • Statistics on household structure, pp. 31-33 in “Urban Families in the Eighties: An Analysis of Chinese Surveys,” by Jonathan UNGER.
  • “Family Arrangements of the Elderly,” pp. 43-49 in in “Urban Families in the Eighties: An Analysis of Chinese Surveys,” by Jonathan UNGER.
  • “Life Cycle Dynamism and Intergenerational Obligations: Three Case Studies,” pp. 54-60 in “Urban Households: Supplicants to a Socialist State, by Deborah DAVIS.
  • Chapter 12, “Settling Accounts: The Intergenerational Contract in an Age of Reform,” by Charlotte IKELS. pp. 307-333
FONG, Vanessa. Only Hope: Coming of Age Under China’s One-Child Policy. Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 2004.

SHEA, Jeanne Laraine. Revolutionary women at middle age: An ethnographic survey of menopause and midlife aging in Beijing, China. Cambridge, MA: Harvard    University, 1998. (UMI Proquest digital dissertation database AAT 9832306 )
Discusses the life stages of women in China and different experiences of aging by generation.  Useful in conjunction with Lock’s “Deconstructing the Change” and Encounters with Aging (See Japan: Secondary Readings below) for comparison.
YAN, Yunxiang. Private life under socialism : love, intimacy, and family change in a Chinese village, 1949-1999. Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 2003.


Eat, Drink, Man, Woman.
Dir. Ang LEE.  1994.  In Mandarin with English subtitles.  Widely available for purchase or rental through retail video outlets.
A widowed master chef lives with his three daughters in Taipei and continues to cook for them, despite having lost his own sense of taste.  As each daughter struggles through the beginnings of adult life, her relationship with her aging father takes unexpected turns.
Shower (Xizao).  Dir. ZHANG Yang.  1998.  In Mandarin with English subtitles.  Available for purchase on DVD or VHS through amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com and other retail outlets.  Available for rental through many retail video rental outlets and through Netflix.
When Daming, a successful Shenzhen businessman, is called home suddenly after many years away from his family, he discovers that the place in which he grew up has barely changed.  His aging father and mentally handicapped younger brother, Erming, still run the neighborhood traditional bath house, which Daming at first scorns as a throwback.  Gradually, though, he realizes that the bath house is a hub of community life — and that his father, as its owner, is perhaps the best-loved and most respected figure among the elderly there.  As the authorities threaten to tear down the bath house to clear space for new development, and as Daming’s father finds it increasingly harder to keep up with all his responsibilities, Daming must reexamine his values and reconcile with his family.
Tui shou (Pushing hands).  Dir. Ang LEE. 1992.  In English and Mandarin with English subtitles.  Available for purchase on DVD and VHS through amazon.com and some other retail oulets.  Available for rental through some retail video rental outlets.
A retired Chinese tai-chi master, Chu, comes to America to live with his son, daughter-in-law, and grandson.  With three generations living under one roof, Chu’s son must cope with inter-generational as well as cross-cultural divides.
Secondary Readings and Online Resources

CAMPBELL, John Creighton. How Policies Change: the Japanese Government and the Aging Society. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1992.

———.  Home page.  http://polisci.lsa.umich.edu/faculty/jcampbell.html
Select bibliography of works by John C. CAMPBELL, Professor and Associate Chair of Political Science at the University of Michigan, many related to health care and long-term insurance policies in Japan.
CAMPBELL, Ruth.  “Nursing Homes and Long-Term Care in Japan.”

IZUHARA, Misa.  Family Change and Housing in Post-War Japan: the Experiences of Older Women.  Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2000.

IZUHARA, Misa, ed.  Comparing Social Policies: Exploring New Perspectives in Britain and Japan.  Policy Press, 2003.

LOCK, Margaret K. “Globalization and Cultures of Biomedicine: Japan and North America.” In Medicine Across Cultures: History and Practice of Medicine in Non Western Cultures. Darko VASILJEVIC, Helaine SELIN, Hugh SHAPIRO, eds. Norwell, MA: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2003.  155-173.

———.  “Deconstructing the Change: Female Maturation in Japan and North America.” In Welcome to Middle Age: And Other Cultural Fictions. Richard A. SHWEDER, ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998.  45-74.

———.  Encounters with Aging: Mythologies of Menopause in Japan and North America. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.

MATTHEWS, Gordon and Bruce WHITE, eds.  Japan’s Changing Generations: Are Young People Creating a New Society?  London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2004.
Contains several chapters addressing inter-generational differences.  See in particular the following:
  • “Introduction: Changing Generations in Japan Today,” by Matthews and White.  pp. 1-22.
  • Chapter 1, “The Generation Gap in Japanese Society since the 1960s,” by Tetsuko SAKURAI. pp. 24-52.
  • Chapter 3, “The Local Roots of Global Citizenship: Generational Change in a Kyushu Hamlet,” by Bruce WHITE. pp. 81-110.
  • Chapter 8, “Mothers and Their Unmarried Daughters: An Intimate Look at Intergenerational Change,” by Lynne NAKANO and Moeko WAGATSUME. pp. 243-273.
MIYAJI, Naoko T. and Margaret LOCK. “Monitoring Motherhood: Sociocultural and Historical Aspects of Maternal and Child Health in Japan.” In Japanese Society Since 1945. Edward R. BEAUCHAMP, ed. UK: Garland Science, 1998.  153-178.

PLATH, David W.  Long Engagements: Maturity in Modern Japan. Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 1980.

PLATH, David W., ed.  Adult Episodes in Japan. Leiden: Brill, 1975.
See the following chapters:
  • “Bride’s Progress: How a Yome becomes a Shūtome,” by Masuda Kōkichi.” pp. 10-19.
  • “The Last Confucian Sandwich: becoming Middle Aged,” by David W. PLATH. pp. 51-63.
  • “The Still Rebirth: Retirement and Role Discontinuity,” by Doublas E. SPARKS. pp. 64-74.
  • “Time, Age, and Ways of Thinking.  From the Kokuminsei Surveys,” by HAYASHI Chikio. pp. 75-85.
ROBERTS, Glenda.  “Pinning hopes on angels: reflections from an aging Japan's urban landscape.”  Family and Social Policy in Japan.  Ed. Robert GOODMAN.  Cambridge, 2002.

SEATER, Barabara.  “Social Science Meets Literature: Using Sawako Ariyoshi’s The Twilight Years in Sociology and Psychology Courses.”  http://www.exeas.org/resources/twilight-years.html
Provides notes on the novel, discussion questions, and suggestions for further reading. 
THANG, Leng Leng.  “Touching of the hearts: an overview of programs to promote interaction between the generations in Japan.”  Family and Social Policy in Japan.  Ed. Robert GOODMAN.  Cambridge, 2002.

WHITE, Merry I.  Perfectly Japanese: Making Families in an Era of Upheaval. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002.


ARIYOSHI, Sawako. The Twilight Years. Trans. Mildred TAHARA. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1984.
High-powered career woman Akiko becomes overburdened when it falls to her to care for her senile father-in-law, Shizego.  Not only does she risk losing her job and being forced into a traditional homemaker’s role; she must also overcome her feelings towards the hostile Shizego.  See also “Social Science Meets Literature: Using Sawako Ariyoshi’s The Twilight Years in Sociology and Psychology Courses.”  http://www.exeas.org/resources/twilight-years.html

Story. Dir. Yasujiro OZU.  1953.  In Japanese with English subtitles.  Widely available for rental or purchase through retail outlets.
When an elderly couple (Shukishi and Tomi) makes the difficult journey from their village to Tokyo to visit their children, they discover that the modernized younger generation of the family is too busy to give them a proper reception.  In an attempt to shirk their responsibility, the children send their parents off to a nearby health spa.  A subsequent tragedy, however, forces the children to face up to their own selfishness. 

Possible Clips:
  • 21:00-33:00 (Segment begins with “Aren’t you tired?” [Tomi] / ends with “It is, but there’s nobody to take them out” [Shige])
  • This segment illustrates in various ways just how wide the generation gap between the elderly couple and their children is.  Before going to bed on their first night in Tokyo, Shukishi and Tomi discuss their impressions of the city, which they have never visited before.  The next day their son must cancel an outing because he is busy with work, their daughter shirks her responsibility of making her parents feel welcome, and Tomi attempts to connect with her spoiled grandson.
  • 50:00-1h00 (Segment begins with “I’ve never been able to come to a spa” [Tomi]] / ends with “We’re really homeless now” [Shukishi])
  • The spa to which Shukishi and Tomi’s children send them turns out to be a resort for young people.  Though they are not enjoying themselves, the couple’s close, warm relationship, fostered by years of a comfortable marriage, sees them through until they decide to leave.  In yet another failure to show their elders the consideration they deserve, however, neither of the couple’s children is willing to shelter them for an additional night.
  • 1h05-1h13 (Segment begins with shot of large character lantern / ends with “Mine at least wouldn’t do that” [Shukishi])
  • Shukishi and two of his companions from his youth reunite and spend an evening reminiscing over sake.  They also discuss their children and the ways in which the younger generation has met or failed their parents’ expectations.
  • 1h30-1h32 (Segment begins with “It must have been because the train was so crowded” [Shige] / ends with shot of white shirts on clothesline)
  • Upon returning home, Shukishi and Tomi discuss their children and grandchildren.  Though their children have not lived up to their expectations, the couple resolves to be satisfied that they’ve turned out better than most.
  • 1h45-1h48 (Segment begins with “Father.  You too” [Koichi] / ends with shot of train station)
  • When it becomes clear that Tomi will not live, Shukichi stoically accepts this major blow as an inevitability of old age.
Case Study: South Korea’s “Filial Piety Inheritance System”

Revisions to South Korea’s Civil Law may provide an interesting case study for classroom discussion.  Under a new provision of the South Korean Civil Law that took effect in 1999, an individual who has been supporting an elderly parent, either by having the parent live in-home or by paying for at least 50% of the parent’s living expenses, receives an extra 50% bonus added on to his or her inheritance upon the parent’s death. 


The Way Home.
Dir. LEE Jeong-hyang. 2002.  In Korean with English subtitles.  Available for purchase on DVD and VHS through amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, and other retail outlets.  Available for rental through some retail rental outlets and through Netflix.
Seven-year-old Sang-woo, born and raised in Seoul, knows nothing but an urban, modernized lifestyle.  When his mother leaves him with his grandmother in a remote rural village for an extended visit, he immediately clashes with his traditionally-minded grandmother and refuses to accept his new life.  Gradually, though, he realizes that family ties prevail over inter-generational gaps.
See also http://koreanfilm.org/kfilm02.html#wayhome for a review and trailer.

Possible Clips:
  • 8:00-11:00 (Segment begins with Sang-woo and grandmother eating dinner / ends with Sang-woo dealing with chamber pot)
  • On his first evening living with his grandmother, Sang-woo faces the lifestyle of an impoverished villager for the first time.  Accustomed to a privileged urban childhood, he is oblivious to his grandmother’s efforts to spoil him with treats – insignificant trinkets to a modern child but luxuries to the elderly poor.
  • 14:30-23:30 (Segment begins with grandmother seated on porch contemplating mountains / ends with Sang-woo’s third attempt to buy batteries)
  • While Sang-woo ridicules his grandmother’s failure to understand his modern ways and apparent slow-wittedness, she scrapes together money so that he can buy new batteries for his Game Boy. 
  • 34:30-39:00 (Segment begins with Sang-woo and grandmother on front porch / ends with Sang-woo devouring chicken while grandmother sleeps)
  • One day Sang-woo demands Kentucky Fried Chicken for dinner.  Understanding only that he wants chicken, his grandmother scrapes together some money, buys a chicken from a neighbor, slaughters and cooks it herself, and proudly presents Sang-woo with his special meal.  Unable to comprehend that his grandmother has never even heard of KFC, Sang-woo throws a temper tantrum, finally eating the chicken only after he becomes unbearably hungry.
  • 1h17-1h22:30 (Segment begins and ends in grandmother’s house)
  • Before his departure for home, Sang-woo attempts to teach his grandmother to read and write a few simple phrases.  He makes her promise to write to him; otherwise, he says, bursting into tears, he will have no way of knowing if she falls ill.
Special thanks to ExEAS intern Sarah McGill for her contribution to this list of resources.