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.

Weibo Netizens: Chinese Guys Are Weaker Than Girls


boysgirls

Many of China’s universities have too many girls, professors say, which is not good for the development of male students. ‘Nonsense’, Weibo users argue: Chinese guys are just weaker than girls.

The ‘Chinese Language Development Summit’ (中文发展论坛) was held at the University of Anhui this week. Over 20 principals and professors from China’s key universities attended to discuss the development of Chinese language and traditional culture. One of the topics was China’s relatively high percentage of female students within liberal arts education, which was presented as an urgent concern.

11289201794464870203

Dean of the Capital Normal University (首都师范大学), Ma Zili (马自力), stated at the summit that there was “not even one boy” in some of the classes. He and other professors suggested that the best solution to solve the problem of “too much yin and too little yang” (“阴盛阳衰”) is to accept more male students through university recruitment, in order to get a more equal balance between male and female students.

“This is not a good growing environment for boys.”

According to the President of Beijing’s Language & Culture University (北京语言大学), Cui Xiliang (崔希亮), girls account for 83% of this year’s Chinese language major freshmen. “This is not a good growing environment for boys,” he added: “I’ve heard from many girls that the guys in their class are not even as tough as they are.”

Once President Cui’s remark was posted on Sina Weibo, the topic “boys are less tough than girls” (#男生还没女生爷们#) triggered heated discussions.

The topic page has been viewed over 37 million times, attracting over 10,000 comments.

Some female students share what they have witnessed at college. For instance, user “Yu Yuxun” writes: “We were with over 200 students at an elective class yesterday, and we had to move desks and chairs. All the girls were working, while the guys did nothing and just stood there. Then they just sat on the chairs that the girls moved for them. I really believe that girls at university are tougher than guys.”

“Guys are spoiled by their parents and society at large.”

A lot of female netizens write that studying has made them stronger and more independent, especially because the guys are not “helping” at all.

User “Sophie Lee” says that she has become a “tough girl” (女汉子) after a couple of years at the Capital Normal University: “I was a typical vulnerable little girl before I entered university, but now I’m capable of doing a lot of physical work by myself. It’s mainly because I feel like I can’t trust or rely on guys any more. They are spoiled by their parents and society at large. Girls have to be tough and independent.”

In China, particularly in small cities and rural areas, families still prefer having sons instead of daughters. The one-child policy is often pointed out as the main reason for that.

“Chinese boys are raised to be sissies.”

As someone who grew up from a small town in China, user “ADnue” comments that Chinese boys are pampered and are raised to be sissy (“娘娘腔”): “In my hometown, boys always play around, while girls have to help parents with farming and housework. Parents and teachers are more tolerant with boys, and easily forgive them their mistakes. They just assume that boys will eventually catch up with girls. Girls are forced to be tough because of the idea that men are superior to women.”

A number of Weibo users are offended that some of China’s universities consider offering more entry opportunities for male students to balance the male/female ratio.

According to user “Silly Wool”, it is gender discrimination: “It’s normal that there are more girls than boys majoring in education or languages, because girls are generally better at it. I just really don’t understand the point of giving priority to male students. Female students majoring science and engineering find it difficult to get a good job after graduation, since a lot of related occupations prefer men over women. And now these college leaders and professors think they should enroll more boys in liberal arts? This is pure sexism.”

This is not the first time a similar topic has become trending on Sina Weibo. The question of “what is a true man?” is a recurring issue, especially amongst those coming from the post 90s generation.

Weibo users generally say that a true man should be responsible, decisive and self-motivated. A user called “Short-haired Cat” says: “When thousands of people say that boys are not as tough as girls, it is no longer an individual problem”. For the majority of Weibo users, it’s a fact.

By Yiying Fan

This article was published on What’s on Weibo.

“Divorced Yet?” – Why China Has a Soaring Divorce Rate


divorcewhatsonweibo

The divorce rate in China increased to 3.9 percent over the last year, with 3.63 million couples bringing their marriage to an end, according to the latest data released by the Ministry of Civil Affairs. The rate has been rising for twelve consecutive years since 2003. “Have you divorced today?” (今天你离了吗) has recently become a common joke between Chinese people. While some blame China’s social media, others say the reasons for the soaring divorce rates can be found elsewhere.

In its Social Service Development Statistical Bulletin, the Chinese government recently reported that the national divorce rate soared to 2.67 percent in 2014, compared to 1.05 percent in 2003, and 0.4 percent in 1985. The renowned Chinese magazine Banyuetan (半月谈) interviewed couples about their reasons for divorce in June, concluding that the mass adoption of social media across China is mostly responsible for the rising divorce rate in China. A lot of couples think that social media has turned them away from each other.

The report also stated that Chinese social media apps such as Weixin (微信, WeChat) and Momo (陌陌, Chinese ‘Tinder’) have made it easier to reach out to people, which has messed up a lot of marriages.

On Sina Weibo, over a dozen of media, including People’s Daily (人民日报) and Global Times (环球时报), recently took the topic online to initiate a discussion amongst netizens on whether social media is the killer of marriages in China.

“Social media have made having an affair so easy.”

User AkiraHunter commented: “It’s really not easy to maintain a relationship or a marriage. In my opinion, social media is a major problem. WeChat, Momo and Century Love (世纪佳缘) have become key tools when it comes to hooking up. Social media have made having an affair so easy.”

Other users, however, do not believe that social media are the biggest reason to trigger divorce. Some think that the higher divorce rate can be explained by the social progress and growing gender equality in China.

“I don’t think social media are to be blamed for the high divorce rate. It’s rather just a medium for expressing human thoughts and desires,” says user Night of Anhui Sound: “The divorce rate in China would have kept rising without the existence of social media too, as society is making more progress and genders are more equal. Women now know how to protect themselves in cases of domestic violence or extramarital affairs.”

weddingweibo

User Arale1 added: “We used to think that divorce is a shame for women. A lot of Chinese women put up with a dead marriage for the sake of their children, and because they needed financial support from their husbands. But nowadays, women don’t really need men to support them, as many women start to make more money than men. We have realized that we shouldn’t discommode ourselves anymore. Getting divorced is not the end of the world. On the contrary: it could be the beginning of a new happy life.”

“Nearly 40% of marriages in Beijing end in divorce.”

It’s worth noting that the comments above only apply to women in urban areas, where the divorce rate is much higher than in rural China. Nearly 40 percent of marriages in Beijing end in divorce – a remarkable peak compared to the national divorce rate of 2.67 percent.

Chinese women in big cities and urban regions now have more opportunities for higher education leading to well-paid jobs, which makes them financially independent. Young women in China don’t need to rely on their husband to support them anymore. Thus, money is no long the reason for not getting a divorce.

In rural areas, however, people are still not that tolerant of divorce. Many women are forced to stay in a broken marriage in order not to ruin their families’ reputation. It would also be more difficult for a divorced woman in rural China to find another man who is willing to marry her.

Another factor that cannot be neglected in this issue, is the China’s one child policy (独生子女政策). The post-1980s generation (80后) has been raised as an only child in the family, without having a siblings to interact with. This so-called “me generation” is often described as being selfish, impulsive and unwilling to compromise. Their parents urge them to get married, and then interfere with their marriages. The combination of these factors seems to be a major contributor to the higher divorce rate. According to the Ministry of Civil Affairs, of all couples filing for divorce in 2014, those born in the 80s had the highest divorce rate. “Lightning divorce” (闪婚闪离) has specifically been a trend among this ‘me generation’.

“We didn’t want to compromise, so we just got divorced.”

Unlike the dating culture in most western countries, Chinese couples usually do not live together before they decide to tie the knot. Typically, they date for a year or two – going to the movies, having dinner, occasionally having sex in a hotel room, or taking a few short trips together. Then the parents start to pressure them to get married. Some young women choose to get married in order not to become ‘leftover women‘ (剩女).

“Parents and other relatives won’t give you enough time to figure out with whom or when you want to be married. They believe it’s time to do it when you reach certain age. They pressure you so hard! We got married shortly after dating, and then realized we don’t even share the same values in life. As the only child in the family, no one wanted to compromise, so we just got divorced,” confesses Weibo user Kianase.

“Getting divorced for two dollars.”

In addition to the above reasons, the easy procedure and low cost of getting divorced in China also cause rising divorce rates. Before 2003, a reference from either the employer or a community leader was required for applying for a divorce. Many couples would not consider divorce due to the humiliating process. But now the rules have changed, and this is no longer needed. Unlike couples in other countries that are required to separate for a period of time before they can legally file for divorce, separation is not required in China. Couples can quickly, easily, and privately file for divorce. The divorce fee is less than two dollars and even free of charge in some cities.

However, these procedures are, again, changing. Some local civil affair departments have just launched the new policy of “limited numbers of divorce” (限号离婚), in hopes of decreasing impulsive divorces. Citizens in Guangzhou posted on Sina Weibo that they have to wait for at least a month to file for divorce.

The new policy finds online support. As the user Yefuping says: “Some government working efficiencies should be improved, while others should be slowed down. The speed of processing divorce should definitely be reduced, so that couples have some time to think twice before they sign the papers.”

By Yiying Fan

Images by Manya Koetse

This article was published on What’s on Weibo.

Weibo Women’s “Armpit Hair Contest”


whatsonweiboarmpits

An online “Armpit Hair Contest” has fuelled social media discussions on female aesthetics in China. As many women posted selfies on Sina Weibo showing off their hairy armpits, not all netizens agreed on their beauty. But for initiator Xiao Meili, the contest has fulfilled its purpose.

On May 26, Chinese women’s rights advocate Xiao Meili initiated a contest of women’s underarm hair on Sina Weibo. She encouraged women to send ‘selfies’ with their arms proudly raised, showing off their hairy armpits. Forty-six women participated in the contest and posted photos under the hashtag “women underarm hair contest” (#女子腋毛大赛#). Amongst them were three of China’s five feminists who drew worldwide attention for their detention in March this year over their campaign for gender equality.

_83494865_chinaarmpithair3Xiao Meili, initiator of the armpit contest.

The contest, which ended on June 10, has been viewed over 1.54 million times on Sina Weibo and gained more than 1,300 comments up to June 11. Six winners were selected from the photo competition, based on the number of reposts and ‘likes’. The first place winner received a hundred free condoms, the second place got a vibrator, and the third place winners were rewarded with ten female urination devices.

“Why are hairy armpits a taboo for women?”

Weibo user “Zhu Xixi Loves Eating Fish” is the first-prize winner of the “Women’s Underarm Hair Contest”. She said she enjoyed her underarm hair and posted a picture of herself revealing her unshaved armpits while smiling with her eyes closed. In the added comment, she says: “When I was still heterosexual, my boyfriend at the time just took it for granted that I shaved my armpits for the sake of wearing sleeveless T-shirts – until I shaved all of his underarm hair and let him experience what girls go through.”

wow1Some of the participants. Winner Zhu Xixi is in the center.

“Chacha”, one of the second-prize winners, wrote on the contest page: “I love my underarm hair. It’s part of my body. I hope girls can reveal it without fear.” Another Weibo user called “Mimosa” commented to show her support and emphasize the importance of being true to oneself: “I think my hairy armpits look just fine, I never shave them,” she says: “I still wear vests in summer and I don’t feel ashamed of it. Most women have underarm hair. Why do we have to shave it? Why does it have to be a taboo? Do shaved armpits look beautiful?” She believes that there’s no point of listening to other people’s judgement as long as you are comfortable with yourself.

cef7c456jw1eslx9uyby3j20zk0no40pSecond-prize winner ‘Chacha’.

User “Poor and Bored” says that women shouldn’t shave their armpits for medical reasons: “Pulling or shaving armpits might lead to skin infection, as there are many lymph nodes in the armpits. It’s not good for your health. Nobody cares if you shave your armpits as long as you keep it clean.”

However, some netizens hold the idea that armpit hair is ugly and smelly. User “VansChan”, together with many other users, commented that shaving armpits has nothing to do with feminism. “Why is it relevant to women’s rights? Whether it’s men or women, revealing hairy armpits when wearing sleeveless tops is inelegant. We can smell it on the bus and subway. Allegedly, less than 30 percent of Chinese people use antiperspirants.”

“Shaving armpits has nothing to do with feminism”

User “Miseryzoe” is also an opponent of hairy armpits, and continuing the debate by stressing that men and women can’t be completely equal. She added: “I think hairy armpits for girls are ugly and disgusting. Shaving armpits has nothing to do with feminism. Most of these women who don’t shave their armpits are probably just lazy. I don’t believe they don’t think it looks terrible.”

After the storm of comments on the issue of women (not) shaving their armpits, Xiao Meili posted the history of shaving armpits on the Sina Weibo contest page. Shaving armpits started in the United States in 1915, when the fashion magazine BAZAAR published a photo of a woman raising her arms revealing shaved armpits. Then Gillette launched the razor for women to shave their armpits. The advertisement persuaded women to shave and “remove the objectionable hair” so that women would be beautiful, attractive and sanitary.

Gillette1920s marketing campaign pursuading women to shave their armpits.

Xiao Meili had stated that the purpose of Weibo’s “Women Underarm Hair Contest” is to free women’s armpits and open up the discussion on the “definition of feminine beauty”. Women should have the right to choose whether they want to shave their armpits or not. One of the users “Tender 10384” showed her support for Xiao, stating that “the goal of this contest is not to suggest that women should have hairy armpits, but to make women realise that they have the ownership to their own body – women shouldn’t be forced to shave armpits under the pressure of stereotypes or the mainstream aesthetic.”

wow2

Shaving armpits is relatively new in China. According to Xiao Meili, it was not a widespread custom in until the 1990s. Since then, similarly to America and Europe in the 1920s, the idea was spread that women have to shave their armpits – making many believe that they have to in order to be accepted by society. The contest on Weibo has created a buzz amongst young Chinese women, helping them understand the difference between “can” and “have to”: they can shave their armpits, but they don’t have to.

By Yiying Fan, edited by Manya Koetse (This article was published on What’s on Weibo)

201314: Forever Love?


Image

Thousands of couples registered for marriage across China on Jan 4th, 2013 as 201314 are pronounced as ai ni yi sheng yi shi (爱你一生一世) which means love you all my life in Mandarin Chinese. Only in Shanghai, nearly 7,300 couples chose to tie the knot at civil affairs bureaus due to the auspicious meaning of the date. The number surpassed that of December 12, 2012, when 4,883 love birds in Shanghai got married on the century’s last repeating date.

Chinese’s faith on digital superstition is nothing new. Figures 6 and 8 are very popular because the number 6 implies the meaning of smooth and successful and 8 sounds like making a fortune in Chinese. Many people prefer to pay big bucks to buy a mobile phone number that contains these auspicious digitals. However, the number 4 is ineffable because its homonym for death is an ominous sign.

Since 2008, dates with an auspicious meaning have become a popular choice for marriage registrations.

–       08/08/2008 eight is a lucky number in China which stands for good fortune. It was also the opening date of Beijing Olympics;

–       09/09/2009 when pronounced in Chinese, nine aka jiu means forever.

–       10/10/2010 ten in Chinese symbolizes perfect in every way. Shanghai’s daily record for marriage registrations was set on October 10, 2010, when 10,150 couples became husband and wife.

–       11/11/2011 it didn’t have any special meanings until Chinese netizens endowed 11/11 as the Single’s Day in China. Chinese people refer to bachelor as a stick. 11/11 is a date full of sticks thus it’s picked as the Singles’ Day. Many couples chose to get married on that day to end their single life.

–       12/12/2012 when pronounced separately, 12 means want to love, thus 12/12/12 means want to love, love, love.

But can the lucky number help the couples to avoid the scourge in life? Love and marriage will really become solid and smooth due to these numbers? I think the answer is very clear. The figures do not change anything; it’s just thought sustenance only.  As we all know, foreigners believe in God and Jesus while Chinese people’s beliefs are mostly influenced by Confucianism, Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong thought, etc., which are macro and abstract. That’s why ordinary people in general find it impossible to believe in these relatively unreal things. Fortunes and happiness are more related to people’s lives. Therefore, the figures have become part of people’s faith.

360截图-964121593

Ironically, a survey showed that the “good days” is not a guarantee of a good marriage. The divorce rate of couples who got married on the “good days” is higher than ordinary days. Marriage registry staff believes that the reasons for this phenomenon may be that some young people rush to get married to register on the lucky day without going through a comprehensive and profound consideration. Their actions not only failed to obtain the good wishes, but also hid the dangers for the stability of marriage.