Healthy Ageing: Societal and Medical Support for the Elderly Population in China

At a Chinese-language event attracting more than 450 participants from across the globe, Dr. Wannian Liang, Executive Vice Dean of the Tsinghua University Vanke School of Public and Former Director of the Department of Institutional Reform of the National Health Commission, joined Harvard’s Dr. Winnie Yip, Professor of Global Health Policy and Economics, and Dr. William Hsiao, K.T. Li Professor of Economics Emeritus, in discussing key challenges and opportunities for supporting China’s ageing population. The event, co-sponsored by the Harvard China Health Partnership, was organized by the Harvard Chan Chinese Student Health Club and moderated by Club President Fangli Geng.

After analyzing key characteristics and trends of China’s demographic shift, Professor Winnie Yip observed that meeting the needs of the older adult populations requires more than simply providing for their physical health. While eldercare in China is heavily skewed toward institutional care, the current approach cannot meet future demand and does not conform to the preferences of the older adult population. The Chinese government has set a goal of providing 90% of the population with care through home-based care models, 7% with care through community-based care models, and only 3% with care through institutions, but much remains to be done before the country can achieve this target.

Professor William Hsiao turned to the topic of financial security and described how China’s current pension system does not adequately provide retired adults with the resources they need to support themselves into their old age. A substantial percentage of the population lacks pension coverage, those that do have pensions often receive low payments, and significant disparities exist in the pension amounts provided across provinces. Long-term sustainability of the pension system also poses a problem, with the Basic Old Age Insurance schemes operated by 14 provinces already running deficits.

Finally, Dr. Wannian Liang suggested that health is multi-faceted, including physical, mental, social, and moral components, so health-related goals and assessment systems must be similarly multi-dimensional. He also outlined recent policy measures implemented by the Chinese government to promote continued development of the eldercare system across six specific areas: public health education, health promotion and disease prevention, disease diagnosis and treatment, rehabilitation and nursing, long-term care, and end of life care.


  • More information about our work on China’s ageing population is available here.