Why China’s Elderly ‘Huddle to Stay Warm’

HUBEI, Central China — Shen Exiang was feeding his six dogs with some minced pork and rice at home when his former colleague Deng Chao rode over on his motorcycle. It was a chilly February afternoon, but the snow was melting around the village, and Deng wanted to know if Shen and his wife would go hiking with him.

It’s a relaxed pace of life for the 60-somethings, who’ve recently swapped life in Wuhan, a city of nearly 11 million, for a new kind of retirement in the countryside. They “huddle to stay warm,” as the phenomenon has been dubbed. Unable to rely on their only children or state care facilities, they depend on each other for social support.

The concept of “huddling retirement” has aroused interest among middle-aged people ready to retire soon — China’s retirement age varies between 50 and 60 depending on one’s occupation. A couple in the eastern city of Hangzhou made headlines earlier this year when they invited five other retired couples, who shared a fondness for playing mahjong, to live in their three-story suburban home. They charged at most just 1,500 yuan per month for room and board, and cleaning services.

When Shen, 64, was getting ready to retire in 2012, he spent a year searching for the perfect place to start the new chapter of his life. One day, while hiking with friends, he came upon the area around Hanzi Mountain, about 100 kilometers east of downtown Wuhan. When passing through Hanzishan Village on their way down the mountain, he learned that the majority of the hamlet’s 800 residents worked and lived in the city, leaving their houses empty most of the year.

Shen retired after a 43-year career as an engineer at Wuhan Iron and Steel Corporation, one of the largest state-owned enterprises in central China. He loves nature — hiking, hunting, camping, fishing, and looking after pigeons and dogs. “I can’t do any of these in the city,” Shen tells Sixth Tone. With his energetic demeanor, he organizes a range of activities and has a lot of friends who, like him, wish to stay active in retirement. “Our apartments in the city are just not big enough,” Shen says.

On the top of a hill overlooking a reservoir, Shen and his wife Yan Shifeng, 61, found their own retirement home. The single-story brick building had been abandoned for 10 years — the surrounding land was overrun with weeds and the fish in the nearly dried-up pond had long since died. The owners agreed to rent the 200-square-meter house and the land around it for 1,000 yuan ($160) a year for a decade. “It seemed incredibly cheap,” Yan says. “But we’ve spent over 100,000 yuan on renovating the house and cleaning up its surroundings.”

A view of Hanzishan Village on the outskirts of Wuhan, Hubei province, Feb. 7, 2018. Fan Yiying/Sixth ToneA view of Hanzishan Village on the outskirts of Wuhan, Hubei province, Feb. 7, 2018. Fan Yiying/Sixth Tone

As an engineer who used to be in charge of large-scale experimental energy projects, Shen considers the village’s “huddling community” his retirement project. Shen spent nearly two months converting the dilapidated house into what he and his wife now affectionately refer to as their “mountain villa.” Most of the work went into repairing the ceiling and installing a new bathroom and kitchen.

After local media reported on Shen and Yan’s hilltop abode, more than a thousand people have come to visit, many of whom were thinking about moving to the countryside themselves. Shen invited them to stay in one of his six spare bedrooms to experience rural life for a few weeks before making their decision. Since the couple moved to the village in 2013, more than 30 retirees from Wuhan have followed suit.

Traditionally, Chinese live with and depend on their children to take care of them later in life. However, most people who are currently entering retirement started their families in the 1980s, when China’s strict family planning policies only permitted one child. Many of today’s pensioners have realized that it is unrealistic to rely on just one child, who might be also raising children of their own. Official numbers reflects this, too. In 2016, over half of seniors nationwide were so-called empty nesters — seniors who live apart from their children. The proportion exceeded 70 percent in cities.

As a result, China’s youngest pensioners are more open-minded about their retirement plans— from spending big on high-end apartments in luxury senior housing to “destination retirement,” where seniors move around to different locations each season. Luo, the sociologist, sees “huddling retirement” as a response to inadequacies in state-provided elderly care. “China’s old-age welfare system was mainly built to fullfill material and service needs, but very little attention is paid to elderly people’s spiritual and social needs,” Luo says. “Huddling retirement satisfies precisely these requirements.”

Shen Exiang poses for a photo on the Hanzi Mountain on the outskirts of Wuhan, Hubei province, Feb. 7, 2018. Fan Yiying/Sixth ToneShen Exiang poses for a photo on the Hanzi Mountain on the outskirts of Wuhan, Hubei province, Feb. 7, 2018. Fan Yiying/Sixth Tone

For Shen, life in the countryside is certainly fullfilling. He wakes up around 6 every morning, eats breakfast, and exercises. Donning his favorite camouflage outfit, he then feeds the chickens, ducks, dogs, and sheep. For lunch and dinner, the couple and the other “huddling buddies” take turns to cook, and eat together in each other’s house.

Deng, 62, moved to the village four years ago. He raises hundreds of chickens in his yard and sells them at the market every weekend. “The high prices, traffic congestion, and poor air quality in the city are not suitable for retirement,” he says. “The natural environment here is a great attraction to me,” Deng adds.

Shen admits that he wouldn’t have moved to the countryside if it wasn’t for his sister, who is taking care of their mother in the city. His son, who is unmarried and loves to travel, also fully supports his parents’ move. “Many of my friends envy my carefree life in the country; however, they can barely step out of the urban center as they have to take care of their grandchildren in Wuhan,” says Shen.

Huddling retirement is still rare in Luo’s eyes, and she doesn’t think it’s a realistic alternative for most people. “These retirees are the ‘young seniors’ who are in good shape,” she says. “When they are ill and their health condition won’t allow them to live in the countryside for very long, they will have to move back to the city.” Though the government has promised improvements in rural health care, the best hospitals are still in the city.

But while Shen is concerned about health, he hopes he will never have to leave. “I think that when I’m old and need professional medical care, there will be good nursing facilities in the countryside, so that I could keep living here instead of moving back to the city,” he says, as he sips his favorite green tea.

A view of a newly renovated cottage bought by a couple, who are both doctors, in Hanzishan Village, on the outskirts of Wuhan, Hubei province, Feb. 7, 2018. Fan Yiying/Sixth ToneA view of a newly renovated cottage bought by a couple, who are both doctors, in Hanzishan Village, on the outskirts of Wuhan, Hubei province, Feb. 7, 2018. Fan Yiying/Sixth Tone

But if that doesn’t happen, Shen has another plan.

A five-minute walk down the hill from his home stands a house that’s currently being renovated. Its walls are now stark white, but the most eye-catching feature is the wood-paneled walls and terrace on the second floor reserved just for pigeons. Shen says that a couple bought the house recently and is planning to move in later in the year, when they retire. “They are both doctors,” he says. “I think it’s a really good thing for us to have them here.”

This article was published on Sixth Tone.


Longevity Pilgrims Go to Guangxi to Learn Secrets of Old Age

Mist drifts among the peaks of Bama County’s verdant mountains in a scene that landscape artists could only dream of. Yet the county, in southern China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, is known not for its scenery but for its legendary status as the country’s “home of long life.”

Bama County boasts 96 people over the age of 100 among its 300,000 residents, according to local government records. Of the county’s centenarians, sprightly 112-year-old Huang Ma Kun is one of the most famous.

When Huang was born, China was still a dynastic empire, and women in her area had low social standing. They didn’t even possess names of their own until they were married: “Huang Ma” means a woman of the Huang family, and “Kun” was the nickname of her husband. This became her official name after she married at just 14 years of age.

Living through wars, famines, and revolutions has left Huang, who belongs to the Zhuang ethnic minority, with vivid memories of hardship and deprivation. Even now, in these days of relative plenty, she prefers to keep her diet simple and plain, as do most of Bama County’s other elderly inhabitants. Huang doesn’t eat anything sweet and gives non-local foods such as milk or bread a wide berth.

Neighbors offer lunar new year greetings to 112-year-old Huang Ma Kun in Bama County, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Jan. 31, 2017. Fan Yiying/Sixth Tone

Neighbors offer lunar new year greetings to 112-year-old Huang Ma Kun in Bama County, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Jan. 31, 2017. Fan Yiying/Sixth Tone

Three days after a family meal to celebrate the lunar new year, attended by five generations of her family, Huang was still eating leftovers of her favorite delicacy, a species of fish that only lives in the nearby river. Locals cite the fish — known as youyu, or “oily fish,” and rich in heart disease-battling omega-3 fatty acids — as one of the reasons for their good health. “We call it ‘underwater ginseng’ because of its great health benefits,” Huang says.

Huang is something of a celebrity, her age a huge draw for the county’s many visitors who seek not only to witness, but also to benefit themselves, from the area’s supposed life-extending properties. In 2016, a record 4.35 million tourists flocked to the county, a 20-fold increase in the figure from a decade ago.

Outside her home, dozens of the longevity pilgrims from near and far line up to offer new year’s greetings to Huang and take photos with her, and Beijingers Zhang Yufeng and her husband, both in their 70s, are next.

As is tradition, the couple give Huang a small hongbao — a red envelope containing money — as a token of their wishes for her continued good health. The fact that they can’t understand Huang when she returns their blessings — like many her age, she cannot speak Mandarin and only knows the local Zhuang language — doesn’t seem to matter.

Zhang Yufeng and her husband pose for a photo in Bama County, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Feb. 1, 2017. Fan Yiying/Sixth Tone

Zhang Yufeng and her husband pose for a photo in Bama County, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Feb. 1, 2017. Fan Yiying/Sixth Tone

Zhang and her husband are just two of the millions of tourists who will visit Bama County this year. While many spend just a few nights, the couple, who traveled over 2,500 kilometers to be there for the Chinese New Year, are taking the longevity pilgrimage to the next level. They are renting a small apartment for 1,500 yuan (around $220) per month nearby. “We are thinking of staying here for the long term,” says Zhang, who is retired. “Our children can come to visit us here next new year.”

At 32 centenarians per 100,000 people, the county still lags behind the world leader, Japan, where the proportion is 48 per 100,000. Nevertheless, Bama County boasts a rate of over-100-year-olds that is more than 10 times China’s national average.

That figure is likely boosted by the fact that the region — with its thick forests and steep hills — doesn’t lend itself to farming, meaning that a large proportion of the younger population has left Bama County in search of work elsewhere. Those who do stay to work the land find that a year’s harvest will feed their own families but offers little else.

Meanwhile, scientists have found their own explanation for the “home of long life” in the county’s distinctive natural environment. In the government-funded Bama Longevity Culture Exhibition Hall, a number of scientific theses on display extol the positive health effects of the area’s unnaturally high geomagnetism (though some studies claim that high geomagnetic levels are harmful to the body) and high concentration of negative ions — oxygen atoms with one extra electron — in the air of local caves.

Tourists sit and chat inside Baimo Cave to receive geomagnetic therapy in Bama County, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Feb. 1, 2017. Fan Yiying/Sixth Tone

Tourists sit and chat inside Baimo Cave to receive geomagnetic therapy in Bama County, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Feb. 1, 2017. Fan Yiying/Sixth Tone

Along the river near Baimo Cave, Zhang waits in line beside villagers and visitors alike to fill her plastic bottle with spring water. “Locals told me that the spring water here is intensively magnetized by the cave and filtered by the karst rock,” she says. “That enables it to cure some diseases.” The couple have a monthlong pass to Baimo Cave, which they visit with deck chairs to get their daily dose of ionized oxygen.

According to Ye Liuyan, Bama’s deputy county mayor, in addition to the millions of tourists, there are 100,000 or so non-locals who live there semipermanently, renting property on a month-by-month basis. A local tourism industry covering cave entrance fees, eateries, accommodation, transportation, and souvenirs has emerged along with the influx of people, but the local government remains ambivalent about the sector’s growth.

Many of the county’s villages have become flooded with not only those seeking long life but also those seeking cures to serious illnesses. “The natural environment in Bama County does do good to one’s health,” says Ye, “but the effects have been deified by the sick people one after another.”

While the self-perpetuating reputation of the county as a life-giving haven has brought the area relative prosperity — as evidenced by a 12-percent year-on-year increase in income for locals, according to Ye — the government has taken steps to curb the impact that such massive human traffic has begun to produce.

A view of Bapan Village and Panyang River in Bama County, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Feb. 1, 2017. A number of high-rises have been built since 2009 to host the growing number of tourists. Fan Yiying/Sixth Tone

A view of Bapan Village and Panyang River in Bama County, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Feb. 1, 2017. A number of high-rises have been built since 2009 to host the growing number of tourists. Fan Yiying/Sixth Tone

In 2012, the government prohibited the construction of high-rise buildings that had begun to spring up in 2009 to house increasing numbers of inhabitants both temporary and permanent. A number of high-end resorts and hotels will be completed outside of the villages by the end of 2017, explains Ye, in an attempt to draw visitors away from the longevity villages themselves. “We aim to relocate elderly visitors to the ‘holiday villages’ planned and built for them,” she says, “so as to reduce the negative influences on locals’ lives.”

But at the same time, plans to increase access to the isolated county thunder on. A highway connecting Bama County and the provincial capital, Nanning — scheduled to open by the end of 2018 — could make things more difficult for a local government seeking both to protect the region’s landscape and villagers and to flaunt its unique, highly monetizable selling point.

For Huang’s grandson Huang Jun, who lives with her, the spike in tourism is unquestionably a good thing. Now 43 years old, Huang Jun chose to return to the village to rent property to visitors, after having worked in the city for many years. In the past, tourism was a far-off concept for villagers who were happy with just three corn-based meals a day. Now, things have changed, Huang Jun explains between steaming mouthfuls of the expensive oily fish: “Life is much better and easier now.”

The star of countless selfies and recipient of many a hongbao, Huang Ma Kun is more than happy to muster a smile for anyone who comes to her door. Bama’s reputation has brought the country to the 112-year-old’s doorstep, and it may yet do the reverse as well. As the latest horde of tourists snaps away on their phones, she smiles and says, “Some visitors from Beijing told me they would take me there one day.”

This article was published on Sixth Tone.


The New Old: China’s Grey Nomads Want More From Retirement

While many retirees in China are busy taking care of their grandchildren instead of pursuing life’s pleasures, a group of old friends from Qingdao, in China’s eastern Shandong province, are enjoying hot springs and organic meals in the city of Yangzhou, nearly 600 kilometers from their hometown.

The group are part of a new, wealthier generation of seniors in China who are choosing to grow old in style. Traditionally, elders lived with their extended families, and these days many rural elders are left behind to raise grandchildren while their adult offspring labor in distant cities as migrant workers. But increasing affluence in some circles and changing family structures in China have given birth to a new phenomenon: “destination retirement.”

This new retirement model, in which seniors move around to different locations each season, is a growing trend among those who have the money and time. Domestic tourism in China often takes the form of hurried and regimented group sightseeing tours, but destination retirement offers seniors longer sojourns — usually 10 days to a month — to get to know new places, keep active and healthy, and broaden their horizons.

People of our age have experienced the most turbulent times in China. Now we just want to enjoy the rest of our lives.

The industry has only really taken off in the last couple of years, particularly in regions with attractive climates and cultures, such as warm, diverse Yunnan province in China’s southwest or the tropical island of Hainan in the south. The eastern province of Jiangsu is catching up, and in May 2015 a government-supported organization,China Sojourn, was established to design and develop destination retirement routes.

China Sojourn’s chief, Qin Kaizhong, tells Sixth Tone that these days, seniors want more from retirement. “Elders who are in good health aren’t satisfied with retiring at home,” Qin says. “They are looking for new lifestyles and adventures in different cities, based on their schedules and preferences.”

Yangzhou, a city in Jiangsu that’s home to 4.6 million residents, has become one of the hottest destinations for seniors, especially those from northern regions who are drawn to the city’s delicate cuisine, exquisite gardens, and slow pace of life.

The group from Shandong comprise four couples who have known one another since the late 1970s, when they began working together at a state-owned company in Qingdao. Now retired and aged between 58 and 62, they decided to visit the Tianle Lake Resort in the west of Yangzhou on Sept. 15 after seeing friends share pictures of the getaway destination on social media.

A view of Tianle Lake Resort in Yangzhou, Jiangsu province, Sept. 22, 2016. Fan Yiying/Sixth Tone

A view of Tianle Lake Resort in Yangzhou, Jiangsu province, Sept. 22, 2016. Fan Yiying/Sixth Tone


Yang Lin, 58, is the youngest among the eight former colleagues. She drove six hours to Yangzhou with her disabled husband and their 11-year-old dog, eager to experience the city’s laid-back lifestyle.

People in Yangzhou know how to enjoy life to its fullest, starting the day drinking tea at a teahouse, and ending it by relaxing in a public bathhouse. The locals sum up their customs with a pithy saying: “In the morning, skin envelops water; in the evening, water envelops skin.” At the resort, the group sinks into natural hot springs even more luxurious than the public baths.

“People of our age have experienced the most turbulent times in China,” Yang tells Sixth Tone before getting ready for the hot spring. “Now we just want to enjoy the rest of our lives.”

Tianle Lake Resort opened in February 2015 with services targeted at seniors. The scenic 200-hectare resort offers guests and residents water town scenery, lake views, organic farms, and entertainment, and it will soon open its own on-site hospital.

The elderly pay much more attention to their health than young people do, and they are willing to invest in it.

Chen Yujin, the resort’s marketing director, tells Sixth Tone that most of their customers are “young retirees” aged 60 to 70, who are in good shape and have relatively high pensions. At present, China’s official retirement age is 60 for men; for women, it’s 55 for civil servants and state employees but 50 for others, though these baselines are likely to be raised.

Chen says most senior guests choose the resort for its organic catering and natural hot springs. “The elderly pay much more attention to their health than young people do,” says Chen, “and they are willing to invest in it.”

It took Chen and her team five years to set up the resort and its farm, largely because they needed three years to rid the soil of contaminants so their produce could be certified organic. “We lost 2 million yuan ($300,000) per year while we were preparing for the organic farm,” Chen says.

Due to the financial risks, few other operators have entered the destination retirement industry on such a large scale, but Chen is glad they made the investment. Now the resort runs a restaurant on the lake that specializes in hot pot using organic produce grown on the property. Food safety is a big issue in China, and Chen believes that by offering high-quality, healthy food, they’ll draw seniors through word-of-mouth without having to invest much in advertising.

Xie Wenying, 63, decided to try the resort just a few days after hearing about it from a friend in early September. “I had no idea what destination retirement was, but I’ve been looking for such a place in China for a long time,” she says from her rental apartment at the resort.

Xie is a retired dance teacher who opened her own fitness club a decade ago. Living in heavily polluted Changsha, the capital of central Hunan province, Xie says that even clean air seems like a luxury. “It’s even more difficult to find a place in China where organic food is farmed and certified,” she adds.

Guests like Yang and Xie pay 200 yuan per night for their stays at the resort, which includes accommodation and three meals, but not extras like the hot springs or horseback riding. Apartments can also be bought outright. According to marketing director Chen, the resort hasn’t yet made a profit from its retirement services. “But we’ve seen how huge the market is, and we hope to seize it as early as possible,” Chen says.

China is aging rapidly: The latest statistics say that there were 243 million people over age 60 in 2014 — nearly 18 percent of the country’s total population — and forecasts show that there will be 487 million by 2050, when the value of the senior market is estimated to reach 354 trillion yuan.

Since Tianle Lake Resort opened last year, it has hosted more than 400 seniors, with a sharp rise in guests after the resort was featured on national television in March. But while seniors from all over the nation come to experience destination retirement, many locals in Yangzhou are hesitant to embrace the trend, or simply don’t have the means.

Xie Wenying practices archery at Tianle Lake Resort in Yangzhou, Jiangsu province, Sept. 23, 2016. Fan Yiying/Sixth Tone

Xie Wenying practices archery at Tianle Lake Resort in Yangzhou, Jiangsu province, Sept. 23, 2016. Fan Yiying/Sixth Tone


The state-owned company that Yang and her former colleagues from Qingdao used to work for is making high profits, so each member of the group enjoys a pension of more than 6,000 yuan a month — double what most of their peers at home receive — and this makes 2,000 yuan for a 10-day resort stay affordable. They’ve already started planning where they’ll go next month. But according to the Yangzhou Human Resources and Social Security Bureau, the average monthly pension for retirees in the city was 2,152 yuan in 2015.

Destination retirement is something that can only happen in my dreams.

For 56-year-old Yangzhou resident Zhou Li, her monthly pension of 1,700 yuan isn’t even enough to cover her family’s daily expenses. The former factory worker retired at 50 but later trained as a foot masseuse to boost the household income. “Destination retirement is something that can only happen in my dreams,” says Zhou, who can now make an extra 1,000 yuan each month from foot massage services.

Her life presents a sharp contrast to seniors’ luxurious experiences at Tianle Lake Resort. The resort will have 6,000 beds and a hospital by the end of 2018 and Chen says the next step is to offer services for seniors who need medical care, while also making them feel at home. “We want to change people’s views of nursing homes as places of desolation and loneliness,” she says.

China’s family planning policies have triggered a shift in seniors’ expectations. Unlike previous generations, those who came of age in the era of the one-child policy aren’t averse to the idea of nursing homes. “It’s too much work for one couple to take care of four elders in the family,” Xie says.

As a fan of leisurely travel and organic food, Xie has visited over 20 countries on her own, and she’s delighted to find a place in China that fulfills her desires.

“I’ll think about purchasing a small apartment in the resort so I can come stay here every summer and avoid the heat in Changsha,” says Xie.

This article was published on Sixth Tone.

“Sitting the Month” – a Gift or Torture?


After Mother’s Day, it is still a hot topic on China’s social media: how could Kate Middleton appear in public, high heels and all, only 10 hours after giving birth? In China, new moms are confined to their beds for weeks after giving birth. This tradition, called ‘sitting the month’, comes with many rules. Amongst them: no showering, no drinking cold water, no leaving the house.

Just like a lot of countries in the world, China celebrated Mother’s Day last weekend, on the second Sunday in May. While the whole nation was preoccupied with buying mum’s gifts, one online picture was still passionately discussed on Sina Weibo: the photo of The Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, leaving the hospital and showing up in public looking pretty and rested, only ten hour after giving birth to Princess Charlotte.

According to Chinese tradition, women are expected to rest indoors for a full month after giving birth, which is called “sitting the month” or “zuo yuezi” (坐月子) in Chinese.

Zuo yuezi” can be dated back to Western Han Dynasty (B.C. 202 – A.D.9) and was even mentioned in the 2,000-year-old Book of Changes, or I-Ching (易经). After giving birth, tradition keeps a new mother indoors for the month after the baby is born. The new mother is treated like a queen – waited on hand and foot. She doesn’t need to do anything; not taking care of the baby nor cooking for the family. Every year, millions of Chinese women submit to this practice. Women generally see it as a gift as well as a torture.

No taking showers, no brushing teeth.

During the traditional confinement period, new mothers sit around in pajamas for a month to recover from childbirth. There are a lot of rules, which many new moms are struggling with: no going outside, no stairs, no lifting, no cold drinks, no open windows, no air conditioning in summer or winter, and, inconveniently, no taking showers or brushing teeth. Even when breastfeeding, women lie on their sides instead of holding the baby.

From generation to generation, Chinese women are told if they do not undergo this confinement, they will suffer from health problems later in life. Therefore, Chinese netizens were shocked by Kate’s public appearance in her fancy high heels just ten hours after her delivery.


One user called “Potty-mouthed Queen” posted on Sina Weibo: “I felt extremely weak and tired after I gave birth to my daughter. There’s no way I could stand and show up like Kate after 10 hours.”

Kate’s public display led to the reflection of Chinese tradition in modern society. Another user, “Lemon”, said: “I’ve been staying in bed for 10 days already and I really hate it. I can’t brush my teeth or take a shower. I’m not allowed to eat raw fruit or vegetables, or drink coffee, cold drinks or even cold water. I understand that these rules are aimed at restoring balance to the new mother’s body after childbirth, but I’ve had enough.”

“Comparing Western women with Chinese women is like comparing apples with oranges”.

Most Chinese still believe that women following the tradition of ‘sitting the month’ later will have less health problems than those who don’t. In addition, Chinese traditions still play an integral role in everyday life, as people tend to respect them and pass them on to their children: “It must make sense since the tradition has passed generation to generation,” said many users on Weibo.

Other netizens pointed out physical differences between Chinese and westerners. “It’s like comparing apples with oranges. We shouldn’t follow what western mothers do as the diet habits and geographical environments are different“, user Zhang Daidai commented on Weibo. According to her, Caucasian women eat a lot of beef and high protein food, making it unnecessary for them to ‘sit’ the month after delivering the baby. However, the user points out, they put on weight easier than most Chinese: “It’s all about the diet habits. Westerners already have more than enough calcium and protein in their body, thus, the loss of calcium and protein during labour doesn’t really affect them. On the contrary, Chinese women generally miss these nutriments in a great amount, so it’s better to endure it for a month and avoid serious health problems in the future.”

The practice of ‘sitting the month’ related to existing ideas about balancing yin and yang. If the yin and yang are balanced in the body, one will not get sick. If they are out of balance, people tend to get ill more easily.

In spite of all the arguments online, the benefits of ‘sitting the month’ are evident for many Chinese women. As one of the new mothers shared: “I was totally against the idea of confinement in childbirth. But after 30 days, I did feel like it helped me recover and the constant headache which always bothered me before delivery is now gone.

Despite the rapid speed of China’s modernization, the long-history practice of ‘sitting the month’ remains popular and treasured. Although the radiant post delivery Kate Middleton fascinated Chinese netizens, it is unlikely that Chinese new mums will step out in their high heels after giving birth any time soon.

Image sources:
The World of Chinese
Huffington Post

This article was published on What’s on Weibo.

Book Review: Do NOT Marry before Age 30

30“Do Not Marry before Age 30” is a book written by Joy Chen, an American-born Chinese and the former deputy mayor of Los Angeles. She overcame many barriers and evolved from a timid Chinese girl to a confident global citizen. She got married at age 38 and has two beautiful young daughters. Simply put, she’s successful in both career and family.

I firstly knew Joy by reading her blog Global Rencai (Global Talents) when I was doing some research for my article about left-over women in China. I noticed that on her blog, she received countless comments from Chinese women, many of whom complained about the pressure on women in China especially when it comes to marriage. And then she wrote this book.

In the book, Joy  sends a message to every Chinese woman:

It doesn’t matter if you’re single or married, divorced or widowed: you can have it all. That is, of course, as long as you are brave enough to ignore the conventional rules.

There are a lot of books out there teaching woman how to be a good wife or how to find a good husband, but few of them are brave enough to speak it out that a real happy and successful woman should be spiritually independent.

Joy pointed out the current situation in China in the first chapter: after graduation, a lot of single girls in China will be asked “do you have a boyfriend?” If the answer is yes, the following-up question would be “what’s your plan?”, “where is he from?”, “does he have an apartment?”, “when are you getting married?” If you don’t have a boyfriend, usually people will give you a pity look. It seems like the only criterion to judge a woman if she’s successful is to see if she has a boyfriend/husband or if her boyfriend/husband is successful. It just makes me so sad to see my friends getting married due to the pressure from their parents. I’m sure they love their boyfriends but often times they come to me admitting that they have not ready for marriage or they are not sure if he is the one but they have to get married because their parents expect them to.

No, it’s not supposed to be like that. I’m 26 years old and I would be lying if I say my parents haven’t put any pressure on me to urge me to get married and have kids. That’s one of the reasons why I decided to move out from my parents’ house two years ago to live on my own. I want to be independent, spiritually and financially. I have a great job. I have my hobbies. I want to explore the world on my own. Maybe one day I will marry a guy that I love, but it’s just something I will consider at a certain time in the future. Getting married is a certain point in my life, not an ultimate goal I should make all my efforts to realize it.

A friend of mine, a Shanghainese girl who married an older Chinese guy when she was 23 and moved to his hometown in southern China as he has a big business there. She quit her job and her life here to be with her husband. “I’m not happy,” she told me the other day. Sadly, she didn’t have the courage to give up her fancy life. “I don’t know if I can still find a good job to support myself. I have everything I need right now.” Materially, yes. But what about spiritually? I just simply told her what I read from Joy’s book:

“As women, it’s easy for us to lose sight of our own possibilities. But the moment you taste power, you’re different.”

China has boasted earth-shaking changes since the reform and open-up to the outside world in 1978. However, the deeply rooted concept that men are superior to women, held by Chinese for thousands of years, make most people believe that women and even the word itself indicate the weak. Boys are taken seriously in the family. Boys should be strong and independent while girls should be obedient and considerate. Male chauvinism is still prevailing in China. It seems like men who are earning money is superior to the women who are taking care of the family at home. This is why I don’t date Chinese men (Sorry folks). A lot of them are not confident or secure and they think the best way to win a woman is to spend money on her. I’ve talked to my Chinese guy friends and apparently they admire me as a friend but they will never marry a girl like me because I’m spiritually too independent for them. Isn’t it pathetic?

We call for equality between men and women. It looks like it’s getting more and more equal but deep down inside, single and independent young ladies are still facing huge pressure from the society: single girls over 25 years old are called left-over women who are successful at work but are left by men; however, men over 25 or even 45 years old are diamond bachelors as they are mature, understanding and financially stable.

My dad is a traditional Chinese guy who expects me, his only daughter, to get married soon so that he has something to talk about with his old classmates on their reunions. He said I made him lose face because most of his friends’ daughters are married and some of them even have kids. Obviously it didn’t occur to him that he could boast to his friends that I am an independent young lady who lives on her own and I am brave enough to travel abroad alone. Either of these seems important to him.

I was hoping Joy’s book could change his attitude towards me and marriage but he just said one word after glancing at the book cover:


Well, I guess there is no other way to change him or the society. All we can do is to change ourselves. I admit I felt a little bit lonely when I just moved out and sometimes I do wish I could go on vacation with a boyfriend, but I believe loneliness is a flavor we have to taste in our life. It’s when we can think for ourselves and know more about the world. Life will be full of regrets if we get married to place our spirits on someone else simply because we can’t bear loneliness.

I remember when I talked about my future husband with my girl friends, I always had a clear yet vague image about him. It’s hard to describe what he is like, however, it has nothing to do with money, look or family background. But after I read this book, I found my answer:

Marriage is nothing like dating. Marriage is more like a mundane small business in which you and he are co-partners and co-employees for life. For your little company to succeed, you must believe in each other, and trust in each other’s good judgment. You must agree on who does what. You must agree on the direction of your company and the values by which it will run.

Postcrossing: It’s More than a Postcard


One thing I stick with while I am travelling is to send postcards to my families, friends and myself. I have a goal of collecting postcards and stamps from all over the world, which I believe will become the project in my entire life.

My friends know about my passion of postcards and they are helping me realize my goal by sending me postcards wherever they go. But it’s still slow until one day my friend Frank introduced me to this wonderful website called Postcrossing.

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Postcrossing is a project that allows anyone to receive postcards from random places in the world. Once registered you get an option to send  postcards to random people in the world. Postcrossing system randomly picks addresses out of its vast database (362,012 members from 214 countries). Then you send a postcard to the chosen address which could be in any country. Once the member receives your postcard, he or she will register your postcard with the ID number you’ve written on the postcard, then just wait to receive a postcard from another member from another country in turn. Whoever is going to send you a postcard is also randomly selected by the system.

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The exciting part of Postcrossing is that I never know what kind of postcard will end up in my mailbox. The feeling that something great awaits me in the mailbox is just so invigorating. I’ll get a chance to learn more about other countries, their people, landscapes and cultures, not to mention the opportunity of making new friends during the process. I have always been interested in international friendship and exchanging my culture with others around the world. It is not only a place to send and receive postcards, but it is also a place to make friendships.


It’s been a year since I started Postcrossing and I’ve received over 150 postcards from 38 countries. I really enjoy it. I still remember the thrill of that first card in my mail box so clearly in December 21st, 2011. I also love reading peoples profiles and searching for the card that fits their wish list. I enjoy this just as much as receiving cards.

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Postcrossing makes me feel that I’m a part of the global community. It’s so touching every time I receive a postcard full of texts, knowing that someone out there in the world taking time to share his or her life with me. It feels great to get to know the world a little bit more every day.

The Charm of Handmade Scarf

11My Mom got retired two years ago. I was trying to figure out a way to fulfill her retiring life. She is introverted and careful and I know she is fond of knitting. As I was talking about it with my American friend Mary, she suggested that I should set up a small business for my Mom’s handmade scarves.

There you go. I created a website for Mom’s handmade scarves. Mary told me that westerners value handmade goods as they are unique which stands for individualism.


Two winter seasons have passed since Mom got retired. The scarf business is getting better as the reputation goes up. Though the number of customers is growing, Mom still prefers to give them away as gifts. Every time my expats friends receive the customized scarves from Mom, they all feel excited and keep complimenting on Mom’s wonderful skills.

As a matter of fact, knitting has had a long history in Shanghai. Shanghainese are particular about clothing. We like to dress nice and decent. While dozens years ago, material was in short supply and the income was limited. People had to make full use of the material to be a decent dresser. Shanghainese know how to spend money carefully and wisely that’s why knitting was very popular at that time.

Mom recalled that Shanghainese family used to have a couple of needles for knitting at home. Grandma used to knit clothes for Mom and Mom made sweaters for me when I was little. I still remember my blue sweater with delicate pattern. A lot of people asked me where I bought this sweater.

33a young Chinese lady enjoying knitting back in 1980s 

However, the popularity of knitting was fading away in 1980s. Being tired of the time-consuming and complicated knitting, people began to chase after machine-made products. Mom said there was a period of time where people enjoyed showing off the machine-made sweaters they purchased.

Today, 30 years later, knitting becomes fashionable again. Handmade could be very expensive especially in western counties where people value handwork and individualism. Machine-made things are almost the same while handmade can embody the personality. Every single scarf that Mom made is different. She likes to make them based on customer’s personality, appearance and height. She once embroidered a girl’s first name on the corner of the scarf which was a big surprise to her.

Our main customers are foreigners, while Shanghainese young people begin to enjoy knitting as well. My friend Toni, the famous scarf girl in our circle shared she is very excited about the different style she creates and she sees knitting a good way to prevent her from sitting in front of computer all the time. “As the life speed keeps going up,it’s good to slow down once in a while,” she added. Another friend Sara once came to my Mom because she wanted to knit a scarf for her boyfriend as a gift. It took her a year to finish the knitting but it was a great experience and her boyfriend said it was the most wonderful gift he ever had.

Another reason why people appreciate knitting is that it’s also environmental friendly. It can be taken apart and knitted again. As Mom described, “sometime when a new idea pops up, I would just take apart the old scarf I don’t fancy anymore and make a new one.” Recycling and repeated use fit the concept of low carbon. Nowadays we are calling for environmental protection and I feel that more and more of us are actually taking it into effective.

Mom has an extra income thanks to handmade scarves. It makes her busy and colors her life. I take Mom with me when we meet the customers. She feels so rewarding when she sees the happy looks on their faces.

22a kitting book of 500 knitting patterns 

Making Friends at Flea Market

1933, the former slaughterhouse that stands on 10 Shajing Road in Hongkou district in Shanghai has been remade as a lifestyle and design center. Beside it’s cultural and historical side, an event attracts young people all walks of life in Shanghai gather together on every second Saturday of the month. That is the charity flea market.

The main purpose of this flea market is to raise money to support children in migrant schools. For an admission fee of RMB 1, you can come and sell items. Various necklaces, original graffiti works, handmade leather bags, different shaped dolls, nostalgic cartoons and exotic travelling souvenirs. If you can’t find these at department stores, they are all available at the flea market.

Apart from donation, flea market also creates a stage for young people to make friends in real life. Some stall owners run stores in the city, others have regular jobs and more and more expats are involved.

When I was there yesterday, I had fun watching a guy painting on the shoes. I asked him how many shoes he had sold out and the answer was one pair only. He seemed fine about it. “I’m not here to sell shoes. I’m here to make friends with artists and cool people.”

As I go to the flea market every month, I have made friends with some stall owners. A young couple left me deep impression. They made accessaries by themselves and sell them at 1933 every month. The guy told me,

“you can argue all you like that the prices for new items in China are equal to second-hand prices in a Western first-world country, but the price is not my point. It’s the physical experience – like seeing a film at the cinema instead of watching a DVD at home. It’s rewarding to see others truly appreciate your works.”

My Mom is a fan of flea market as well. Surrounded by young people, she is very outstanding in the crowd. She is well welcomed by stall owners as they are surprised to see a middle-old lady interested in such event. I heard a girl talking to my Mom, “Hey, it’s you again! If you really like this necklace, just take it.”

I once talked to a British girl called Amy at 1933. She said that the flea market in the UK is very mature. They have flea market at community every weekend. She is fond of car booth which is a very popular flea market style there. She explained,

“Earning some extra money is one thing, the other thing which is more important is to make friends and communicate with people in the same community. I’ve missed flea market when I just moved to Shanghai. I’m so glad to see there is such a flea market here too. I participated it right away.”

Now she’s selling second-hand original books from the UK and her classmates sometimes join her.

“It’s not convenient to take all the books back home after we finish college here and it’s a waste to throw them away. Flea market is a great stage as we know there are a lot people here would like to read these original books.”

I bought about 10 original books at her stall and they only cost me 50 yuan. It was a good bargain.

It’s also a process of recycling. Every item has its own value. Maybe it’s meaningless to you, but it might be the one someone else has been looking for. I’m thinking of packing things that I don’t need and sell them at flea market next month. It would be fun to make friends with other people as a stall onwer.

Wine Education Needed in Shanghai

I was enjoying a glass of fine wine with a local friend on his belcony on a sunny afternoon the other day. He bought a bottle of French white wine at Shanghai French Week that was held later last month on Yandang road.

“That French guy told me that this is a famous wine brand in the world but I haven’t heard of it,” he confessed, “I still bought one bottle as it’s on promotion. 99 yuan per bottle for such a great wine is a great deal.”

Oh, yes! It’s great. We both agreed it tastes wonderful. Then I asked him how to judge a good wine and how to appreciate a good wine. He was speechless. I didn’t know the answers either.

I’m sure there are a lot of wine lovers in Shanghai. As Paris of the east, no other city in China has ever embraced exoit and diversity more than Shanghai. Shanghainese love to focus on life quality and enjoy life. That’s why Shanghai is also described as the heaven of petty bourgeoisie.

Sipping a glass of wine while chatting with a friend on a sunny afternoon is a kind of petty bourgeoisie. Shanghai should have the biggest wine market in China because it has the most highest density of five-star hotels, wonderful restaurants and people who are willing to pay for extravagant things. What’s more, in Shanghai, it’s full of business people who love to drink, to gamble and to have fun. From my own experience, it is in Shanghai that business people treat clients with wine, while in the North, in most cases, it is replaced with Chinese liquor or rice wine.

Then the problem occurred: how many of these wine lovers actually know how to taste wine? I was looking for a wine tasting class online but I haven’t seen many options. Then I read a story that a professor of Shanghai Jiaotong University developed a course this semester called the culture of wine. In his class, students can taste different wines with goblets while listening to the music and chatting with classmates.

It’s not surprised that this class is popular among students from Jiaotong University. They are lucky. The wine class I had was based on text books where the teacher just orally told us how to taste wine. Drinking wine is a regular method of socializing and it represents an elegant culture. If we could have an opportunity to learn knowledge on wine tasting at school and apply it in social life after graduating, it could embody personal manners. However, the sheer theoretical knowledge fails to express the essence of wine culture. Text book reading would just made students sleepy.

I also noticed a TV show called Connoisseur. It is produced by a small production company based in Shanghai. They have made 24 episodes so far and all the videos can be found on Youku.com. It shows you everything you need to know about wine in an entertaining way. I think it’s a great way to educated ourselves with wine knowledge when we can’t find a good wine class in real life or we don’t have time to go to such class.


As one of the emerging wine market in the world and the biggest market in China, people in Shanghai are eager to learn more about wine. However, most wine brands haven’t really paid attention to the education. It’s extremely important to educate the customers and local partners if these foreign wine producers want to raise the quantity of wine sold in Shanghai, even in China.

I’m going to attend a wine tasting class and have myself educated. I hope I can pick up a good bottle of wine with specific reasons next year during Shanghai French Week.

Finding true love online

My best friend just ended a long-term relationship and she found herself lost in a world of loneliness and helplessness. She asked me what is the fastest and easiest way to get back in the game and I suggested online dating.

She took my advice and had fun on her first date. As a reserved Chinese girl, she had never thought of dating online until I reminded her.

Last month, China’s biggest online dating site Jiayuan got listed on NASDAQ and it has over 40 million registered members. Earlier this year, I talked with the founder of another influential dating site and he told me there are 50 big online dating sites in China. He also said, “All the hesitations and reservations against online dating have faded away. Most people have accepted online dating as one of the most convenient ways of dating and have started using it extensively.”

However, as far as I am concerned, still a large number of people, including a lot of young people don’t trust online dating. When it comes to dating sites, they think they will only meet bad people and losers who can’t find a partner in real life on the internet. Even though they met their partnersonline, they deny it and make up another story of how they met.

I was talking about this with an American friend and he gave me a weird smile when sharing with me his date with a girl he met online. He just couldn’t believe he could find such a nice girl on the dating site.

Their concerns are understandable. Online dating is not perfect just like the traditional way. There are disadvantages to it that we should take into consideration before making the jump. Some people might just lie or exaggerate about themselves online and have profiles in more than one site, this means they’re getting responses from all over the place and from many different groups and types of people. We absolutely must have safety precautions in place before giving the person the phone number or meet them for a date.

Despite the disadvantages, I personally think dating while using one of the many online dating services is a great way to find that someone special. Being able to take the time to get to know someone through emails, chatting online and ultimately meeting is what these services provide. What makes them unique and different from meeting someone at a café or the gym? We can check out people and find those qualities we are looking for before meeting face to face.

One of the reasons I like about dating sites is that it can maximize my time. All I need to do is to view people’s profiles and see if we have things in common. If we still like each other after a couple of emails and phone calls, we are ready to go.

A more important factor is that dating sites can help me expend my network and circles of friends. Just think about it: I spend eight hours a day working with a married man at the office from Monday to Friday and at the weekends occasionally. How many chances do I get to know single guys? I can’t just sit there and waiting for them to knock my door. Getting online seems the best way.

With a little caution and attention to details, online dating can lead to many wonderful stories in the dating world. People all over the world are finding their matches online and are having great success every day. It is not impossible to find the person of our dreams, we just have to keep our eyes wide open and avoid the potholes along the way to true love.