Coping with The Death of Singleton Children in China: The role of social capital


Purpose – Discussion of China’s one-child policy generally centres on its demographic effects. Bereavement among parents of singleton children and the role of social capital in the bereavement process have been under-explored. The purpose of this paper is to focus on mothers who lost their only children during the Sichuan earthquake in 2008. The paper aims to discuss the under-explored yet crucial issues of the one-child policy – the ways in which Chinese bereaved mothers handle the death of their singleton children – and the roles that social capital can play in their bereavement process. Design/methodology/approach – The author conducted eight case studies on bereaved mothers through home visits, semi-structured interviews and participation in public activities during August 2010 and May 2011. In-depth interviews were used to collect information from these bereaved mothers in Sichuan, China. Findings – The case studies reveal two major experiences of bereaved mother whose familial support varies substantially. One major experience is shared by those who had received emotional support from husband (who offered bonding social capital), and were able to get through the psychological pain. Another experience is shared by bereaved mothers who lost their familial relations. Weak social ties (i.e. an NGO which offered bridging social capital) remained the only source of support. Policies can target at the latter group of mothers by helping them to organise themselves into community-based groups and help to relieve their frustration and grief. Originality/value – These research findings have implications for the development of NGOs, as well as complementary support for community-based bereavement counselling and community care in China. Keywords – China, Family, Social policy, Interpersonal relations, Community relations, Disadvantaged groups Paper– type Case study