A new study has found that while China's amazing growth story hogs the limelight, many of its 140 million elderly are leading a lonely life.
According to the study led by Durham University and the University of Reading the percentage of older people, aged 60 years and above, who said they were lonely has doubled from about 16pct in 1992 to 30pct in 2000.
The researchers said that the potential causes for loneliness include a widespread move since the late1970s from highly collectivised communities, where several generations lived under one roof in close proximity to their neighbours, to communities dominated by the nuclear family, many living in impersonal city apartment blocks.
Moreover, amid rapid economic advancement people are more likely to have moved long distances from the country to the city or from one city to another in search of work, often leaving their parents behind.
The single-child policy means that older people are increasingly left without a selection of offspring for company and care in their old age.
"While economic development has brought many benefits for China, such as money, increased political power and better standards of living, loneliness is one of its negative effects," said lead study author Dr Keming Yang, a Durham University sociologist.
"Mao has been roundly criticised for many aspects of his leadership but - like it or not - the way the society was structured at the time effectively provided opportunities for a high level of social interaction, either good or bad.
"There was a lack of competition and a slower pace of life where people had more control over their schedule. Members of the community tended to attend long meetings where they would talk to others about not merely business but personal issues as well," Yang added.
"Levels of loneliness in China are now comparable, or higher than, those observed in Western Europe; therefore, this is not just a problem seen in developed countries," said co-author Professor Christina Victor, of the University of Reading.
The researchers suggest that policy makers in China need to take urgent action to assess what is needed to improve the quality of life for its 140 million older people, who collectively amount to the largest older population in the world.