I enjoy having the opportunity to host foreign investors when they visit China for the first time. They see the country the way I used to see it, and I wish sometimes that I could get back to that feeling. For people stepping off the plane in Shanghai, China seems like a country that is capable of accomplishing anything, and a place where the market is ready for just about any new product.
So for the next few days we will be looking at the things China does well.
I remember when I lived in Longzhou I was struck by the quality of life enjoyed by China’s elderly population.
It is common to see in most Chinese cities, parks full of elderly people enjoying chess, dancing and some of the most leisurely backward-strolling I have ever witnessed. They seem to have maintained large social networks because many of them live their entire lives in a single village or city.
In the cities I have lived in, senior citizens are entitled to free public transportation, which usually covers most of the city (which compared to the US is amazing, even if it’s often hot and crowded). It also seems that they are always able to find a seat on the bus, since Chinese tradition demands that younger people, even into their 40’s or 50’s, give up their place for someone older.
Within the family the eldest person’s opinion carries the most weight. It is also becoming more common for the grandparents to move back in with their children, once the grandchildren are born. It is often the grandparents who take the child to school, cook for the family, and pass on family history. They are not a person to be questioned.
I would see them gathered under the shady trees on campus that branched out over the few cement tables. The men were playing Chinese chess, and drinking from their glass jars filled with tea so strong you’d expect it to keep them awake through nap time. The grandmothers would be nearby, fawning over their grandchildren and helping them to take their first steps in life.
I couldn’t help but compare that to the nursing homes so many of our senior citizens live in in the US, and think how much better their lives would be if they still had a defined role in their children’s families. My grandma in the US likes to joke that instead of calling them elderly, or seniors, they should be known as “honored citizens”, but in China that already seems to be the case.
Note: My grandma is an amazing person, and she reads this blog daily, which I think is pretty advanced for an octogenarian. My co-workers agree that this would be quite the feat even for someone in their 60’s in China. My grandfather is equally wonderful, and I know he is sitting beside her with a big grin on his face as she reads this to him.