The Chinese government continues to clarify a new law passed late last year to ensure not only the physical care of elders by adult children but their "spiritual needs" as well.

As 400 million migrants live and work in Beijing and Shanghai, among other large urban areas of the industrialized country, aging parents are left behind in provincial towns and villages, tearing asunder longstanding Confucian values of respect — if not worship — of elders.

Passed in December, the new provision requires adult children to regularly visit parents or to at least "greet" them, providing parents with the legal recourse of mediation or a petition to the court. The National People's Congress defined the affected elder population as those 60 and older who are living alone.

"It is still unclear in the law how often people should visit," Xu Zhenhua, a Shanghai lawyer, told reporters. "Also, there is no clarification of the punishment for people who break this clause of the law."

A later amendment to the law stipulated that adult children must "greet" parents frequently, in the event visits are not possible for financial or other reasons of hardship.

"It may be the result of taking consideration of the massive number of migrant workers who can't afford frequent visits home, which may be thousands of miles away," Xu said.

Presently, some 194 million people, or nearly 15 percent of the Chinese population, are 60 or older. China's ministry of civil affairs says that number will rise to 17.1 percent by 2020 — reaching one in three Chinese mainlanders by mid-century.

Chen Haoran, a law professor at Fudan University, criticized the law as impractical. "It has been a cultural tradition for Chinese to take the responsibility of caring for the old," he said, "but the reality is that many people just can't perform this responsibility, either intentionally or unintentionally."

In a survey conducted by China Central Television, 11.9 percent of respondents admitted they hadn't visited their parents in years, while slightly more than one in three said they saw them just once per year.

Another poll conducted by found that 55.2 percent of 123,512 respondents supported the new law as a way to improve elder care in society, while just over a quarter said the law would never work. Approximately 17 percent said they opposed the law as a question of ethics outside of the governmental realm.