Elderly man feared loneliness so much that he put himself up for adoption

Elderly man feared loneliness so much that he put himself up for adoption
(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Han Zicheng had a hard 85 years of life. Born in 1932, he lived through the Japanese invasion of China, Mao Zedong’s revolution and the Cultural Revolution.

He got a job at a factory, married and had children. He enrolled in night classes and furthered his education. All he wanted in life was a comfortable old age.

In 2017, on a cold December morning in Tianjin, southeast of Beijing, Han gathered some paper and wrote out a notice advertising himself for adoption.

“Lonely old man in his 80s. Strong-bodied. Can shop, cook and take care of himself. No chronic illness. I retired from a scientific research institute in Tianjin, with a monthly pension of 6,000 RMB [$950] a month,” he wrote.

“I won’t go to a nursing home. My hope is that a kindhearted person or family will adopt me, nourish me through old age and bury my body when I’m dead.”

When Han taped that notice up, he had already lost his wife. He reportedly had a falling out with one of his sons and the other was in Canada.

He was lonely and desperate for company, and lived in constant fear that he would die alone and all anyone would find of him were his bones.


China has one of the largest populations of senior citizens in the world with 15% of Chinese being above 60 years. The Chinese government made parental visits mandatory in 2013 but children still leave the nest and the aged parents are forced to deal with a faulty social security system.

Jiang Quanbao, a professor of demography at the Institute for Population and Development Studies at Xi’an Jiaotong University, told the Washington Post that the challenge is that China “got old before it got rich.” Being both an ageing society and a developing country with the largest population in the world has left the country with fewer and fewer able workers.

Luckily for Han, a woman saw his notice and posted it on social media with the caption: “I hope warmhearted people can help.” Soon a television crew from an online news site called Pear Video arrived to tell his story and the calls began to pour in.


Soon, people began chipping in to help out Han. A local restaurant offered him free food. He struck a friendship over the phone with a 20-year-old law student named Jiang Jing. He told Jiang that a military man and prospective adopter named Cui was also in contact with him.

Offers started coming in for his adoption and a journalist from Hebei province contacted him promising to visit but Han was not satisfied. He was unable to find a family that would suit his needs. The only family he was still in touch with was his son in Canada who rarely called. Han refused to provide contact details for any of his children fearing their embarrassment. When people called, he would often rant about the government and the state of the social security system.

Finally, in February, Han began calling a helpline for senior citizens called the Beijing Love Delivery Hotline, founded to prevent suicides among the elderly. He would call the number several times a week to vent about his loneliness to the staff. His calls stopped in early March.


When the law student called him in early April, an unfamiliar voice - Han’s son’s - answered the phone and informed her that the old man was dead. 

Han’s son Han Chang was angry about the notice and the ensuing press coverage when he returned from Canada to put his father’s affairs in order. He said that his father was lying and that the elder Han had three sons, not two. He also claimed that the sons took good care of their father though he did not provide any contact information for his family.

When Han fell ill on March 17, he received a call from an unknown person. His son was unable to reveal the identity of the caller but it can be hoped that the lonely old man had someone to talk to on his deathbed.


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