You're retired! It's time to do what you always wanted. Ditch
the mahjong tiles and the grandchildren. It's time to hit the road,
buy a motorcycle, get a tattoo, take up hanggliding - or maybe
immerse yourself in the ancient poets.
Most would say climbing Tianshan Mountains or exploring the
Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region is no big deal. But these
challenges, and others like them, increasingly are taken up by
retirees over 60.
As health improves and life expectancy increases, as children
become more independent, the definitions and expectations of aging
are changing. The 60s are the new middle age and "oldsters" are
doing what once only youngsters did.
They travel, climb mountains, play sport, teach school and do
things that once were considered the province of "young" people.
And activities like surfing the Internet and playing online games
are open to everyone, young and old.
Retirement for many in good health is a new beginning, a time to
do what they always wanted. They don't have to take care of the
grandchildren. They don't have to sit around and watch TV and play
mahjong - if they don't want to.
Take Bao Yuzhen, 62, a former architect. Like many other people,
she has found a wider world after her retirement. She loves
painting. She is a member of the Jiu Jiu Watercolor Association;
she goes to scenic spots to paint, such as Luzhi, Lishui and Qiyun
Mountain. She even held a four-day solo exhibition last year.
"I want to be a happy old woman. I make my own decisions about
my life, and I'd like to have a happy life of my own," she
Bao is a writer as well as editor at the Shanghai Senior
Citizens' University. Her articles about her experiences are often
published in community newspapers. She volunteers for the "Care for
the Next Generation" project, teaching kindergarteners. Sometimes,
Bao delivers talks at senior high schools.
Around 20 years ago retirees either took care of their
grandchildren at home or idled away their life. But the traditional
thinking has changed dramatically, as they are presented with more
choices. And so their lives have changed.
There are two big reasons for the great changes in lifestyle and
attitudes of senior citizens, says Professor Gu Xiaoming with the
history department of Fudan University.
"First, since life expectancy is now 80, far exceeding that of
several years ago, the definition of 'old' has changed subtly.
Retirees are in their 60s, which can be regarded as middle age.
They have enough vigor and energy to undertake a variety of
activities. They find themselves too young to sit around at
"Second, social recognition has altered too," says Gu. "The gap
between the old and the young is getting bridged. The 'old' do what
the young people do, such as using the Internet."
The support of the young generation also contributes to changes
in the oldster's lifestyles, says Gu. Understanding is crucial, and
more important, the younger generation is more independent,
physically and financially. The older generation doesn't need to
worry about their children, which results in plenty of leisure time
Chen Weifang, an accountant in her 40s, agrees. She is delighted
that her father is keen on traveling. She says the widower, who is
in his 80s, has been active for years. Being connected with society
and keeping pace with it is good for seniors, isolation will only
bring down their spirits, she says.
"Elderly people have their own lives and it is not their
responsibility to take care of grandchildren," Chen says. "Parents
can always find someone to take care of their children. It's the
parents' responsibility, not the grandparents' task."
Another busy gentleman is anything but retiring. Wang Jixuan, a
former designer in an institute of micromachinery, goes to school
full time at the Shanghai Senior Citizens' University. "The
decision makes a great difference to me," says Wang. "I have
benefited a lot from it, both physically and mentally, because I
enjoy studying here and find company in my classmates."
Wang is one of the 6,000 students in the university. There are
four such city-level universities with 23 branches, offering
courses in music, musical instruments, literature and the arts,
calligraphy and painting, photography, health care, history,
computer science, languages and many other subjects. They are
affiliated with 17 organizations related to art and culture,
journalism, computer science, literature, photography and other
"Studying here means doing what I like with whom I care for in a
place I fancy," says Wang, who goes to class from Monday to Friday,
morning to afternoon.
"I consider this a realization of my own value. I take delight
in the study and the association activities. There is still much I
can do for others. I take great pleasure in seeing and talking with
classmates and colleagues. Life here is relaxed and colorful. After
dozens years of hard work, at last I have enough time to do what is
really of interest," he says.
According to the Shanghai Senior Citizens' University, 60,000
people are taking courses through television or the Internet.
While some are busy studying, some are busy traveling.
According to Yuan Peizhen, vice president of the Shanghai Senior
Citizens Travel Committee, about 2,700 oldsters took their tours in
the first half of the year.
In some communities, courses on traveling culture are very
popular among senior citizens to ensure good, quality and safe
trips. As Yuan puts it, travel seems to become a part of life for
Zhao Wenfa, 64, is a travel lover who takes a trip every two
months. "It's a happy get-together with my friends who have the
same interests. And it's good for my health, I enjoy the fresh air
and the natural scenery."
Before retirement Zhao was on the administrative committee for
retirees of an entertainment company, so he knows his field. In
retirement he has covered most of Zhejiang Province, including
Shaoxing, hometown of Lu Xun, godfather of modern Chinese
literature, and Anji, the sea of bamboo. Every time he visits
Hangzhou and Suzhou he gets different impressions.
"Making money is important, but what's more important is to
enjoy yourself with the money," he says.
For most old people, retirement used to mean the beginning of
the end. But not any more. It now means a brand-new beginning, the
beginning of a new chapter of life.
A warm caring place for elderly folks
Every day around 30 senior citizens who are really old are
picked up by a shuttle bus and taken to the Guangzhong Community
Service Center in Hongkou District. There they can enjoy the
sunshine, practice tai chi, play mahjong, read, watch TV, chat or
The entire fourth floor - with a lovely terrace and cascading
gardens - is devoted to the seniors. It has an activity room, a tea
room with a refrigerator, a medical care room and physical therapy
equipment. It has 40 beds so that seniors, most over 70 years old,
can rest. Nurses are on staff.
The center is open from Monday to Friday, 9 AM to 5 PM.
Everyone is smiling. The seniors are in good health for their
age, which is hard to tell by appearance. Their attitudes make a
The center offers the feeling of home. The staff shows great
warmth and concern. Chen Yiyun and Zhang Hong are especially
popular for their loving care. They trim the nails of those who
have problems with their joints.
If someone doesn't turn up at the care center, they call. In
some cases, they even pay a visit to make sure everything is all
Nurses give the old people their medications and basic physical
checks twice a week.
The day center provides a place where seniors can find
confidence in each other as well and practice their hobbies.
The cost is 300 yuan (US$39.70) a month, including shuttle bus,
lunch and activities.
(Shanghai Daily August 7, 2007)