Bama County, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region has been ranked fifth in the world for the longevity of its senior citizens. Could folk singing be their secret?
Yes this really is the message coming from a recent survey by Chinese scholars in the county. They found a link between singing folk songs and long old age.
Records show that in 1960 there were some 18 centenarians per 100,000 in the population of Bama County. By 1991, at the World Natural Science Convention, Bama was ranked fifth in the world for longevity. Now today, there are no fewer than 74 people over the age of a hundred amongst the 220,000 inhabitants of this northwest county of Guangxi.
To date, the world has only recognised the influence on longevity of family traits, geography, climate, diet and social background. Chen Jinchao of the Bama County Longevity Research Institute and a member of the World Natural Science Convention said, ”if Bama people’s bowl of corn gruel, dish of bean curd and glass of corn wine is the material wealth of their longevity, then the folk-songs they sing every day are their intellectual assets”.
“We find in the survey at Bama County that people living to a ripe old age share the same hobby of folk singing in a mixed age environment,” said Wei Suwen who has the leading role in the Guangxi Folk Artists’ Association. He points to two centenarians or about 1.5% among 135 famous folk singers in the area. In all 44 are over 71 years.
Two long-lived sisters Huang Meigen and Huang Meinian were born at Ping’an village, Jiazhuan Township in 1897 and 1899. They are fond of singing folk songs from their girlhood.
“It’s just so exciting when I sing the old folk songs that I used to sing,” Huang Meigen said. Remembering happy times, she sang the songs again her eyes flashing with excitement.
Though both sisters are now stooped with age and Huang Meinian is somewhat hard of hearing, they believe that a happy frame of mind enables them to continue to do some housework even in old age. They still cook dinner, feed pigs, weave and sew clothes.
Most of the long-lived people of Bama County are to be found along the Panyang River. Jiazhuan Township, on the banks of Panyang River, has a thousand-year history of traditional community singing. While a Panyang River folk singing event may attract fewer than a thousand people in a busy farming season, this can rise to more than ten thousand in a slack season. A regular gathering to sing Guangxi minority folk songs is staged once every three to five days.
Chen Jinchao, who has engaged in a long running study of longevity in Bama County, believes singing folk songs to be a beneficial social activity. It enables senior citizens to have an open nature and helps them to shed their anger and anxieties.
Here is the Bama secret. It is a non-material, cultural influence working together with family traits, geography, climate, diet and social background.
(china.org.cn by Shan Xingmei, June 27, 2002)