The loss of a child is devastating, but when it's an only child aged 20-30, the loss can be catastrophic for parents too old to have another child. They are known as "deprived parents" and authorities are trying to help them.
Award-winning author Zhou Daxin was absent from a late August press conference for his new book, a half-biographical, half-fictional account of his deceased son.
Zhou, 60, sent two close friends to deliver a presentation and take questions on his behalf, fearing he might break down at the mention of his son's name, Zhou Ning.
Zhou Ning, the family's only child, died of a brain tumor in 2008, when he was 29 years old.
The grieving father spent more than three years writing "Peaceful Soul," a novel based on Zhou Ning's life, which contains imaginary dialogues between the father and son. Zhou dedicated the book to his son and to all parents who have lost their only children.
They are known as shidu fumu or "deprived parents."
The pain of losing one's only child, Zhou wrote, was far more than that of a broken heart. "It is an unbearable, desperate feeling that is beyond words and tears you apart from inside," he said.
"The writing was an extremely painful experience," says Hu Ping, a noted literary critic and close friend of Zhou. "He sometimes wrote only a few lines a day and would spend the rest of the time in bed with a bad headache."
Zhou, who became a soldier at 18 and stayed on as a literary officer with the People's Liberation Army, never expressed his grief openly. "He appeared composed even at his son's funeral," Hu says.
But like all parents who have lost their only child and are too old to have another baby, Zhou and his wife dread nights and holidays. They stay away from friends and relatives because well-intended words of comfort always cause pain.
Wang Baoxia died during surgery on her back last month in her home city of Wuhan, capital of central China's Hubei Province. She was 53 and had no next of kin. Her son died in 2004 during a fight with the family's neighbors and her husband divorced her shortly after that.
She spent the last eight years of her life troubled by grief, poverty and disease. She could only pour out her feelings to a few people she met online, people who were in the same situation and could share her sorrow.
When her back problem worsened, she talked about her plight with a friend, who went to the local family planning authority for help.
The authority agreed to pay all the medical costs for her surgery and signed her papers, which under normal circumstances have to be signed by a family member.
Though Wang's operation failed, the local authority's move is widely praised as exemplary, since many elderly people have complained of delayed surgery at hospitals when no blood relations are there to sign their papers.
The procedure is required before surgery can be undertaken.
A 75-year-old professor at Tsinghua University surnamed Pan complained that he had been rejected by several nursing homes because he had no relatives to sign his papers.
Professor Pan was very supportive of China's family planning policy and often encouraged couples to get married late and have just one child. He was 35 when his son was born. When he was 70, however, his son died of acute heart disease.
Pan and his wife applied to move into a nursing home, but were rejected because the home required contact information for their next of kin, since relatives of the home's residents are required to pay bills and take responsibility for them in the event of an emergency or sudden ailment. Pan and his wife, however, had no next of kin.