As someone who is making the transition to embracing my golden years and retirement, one of my more interesting observations was how Seniors in China approach aging and a post retirement lifestyle. Before arriving in China I had some understanding of the important role the elder Chinese play lives of their children and more importantly their grandchildren. Chinese seniors traditionally provide child care for their grandchildren while the parents are at work. What I didn’t know was how my Chinese cohorts filled the rest of their day. I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised with what I learned.
Beyond providing childcare and home support for their grandchildren it appears that seniors in China pursue three interest: fitness and health, social interaction with peers and finding spouses for unmarried children.
In China tradition and practicality dictate that the oldest male child maintains a lifelong responsibility for their parents. The trade off is that young families have worry free childcare and domestic support at home. But to fulfill their version of the dream lifestyle in their golden years, these senior need grandchildren. Consequently it is essential that their adult children find suitable mates and these perspective grandparents take charge when it comes to finding their children a spouse. To be clear this is not arranged marriage as the adult children have the final say but one can imagine that internal family pressure here is huge especially as biological clocks are ticking.
So how do parents find a spouse for their adult children. Well the simple answer is marketing and advertising in the traditional way. Each morning sellers and buyers gather at local parks. The sellers line up along pathways with prepared flyers that provide vital statistics and make the pitch. Shoppers stroll along checking out who is on the market. If they like what they read, a conversation ensues and the sellers eventually produces photographs to try and close the deal.
There are no guarantees with this process which can take months or longer only to have the adult child reject a perspective suitor. These matrimonial marketplaces also provide a social outlet for seniors to gather, chat and maybe even forge new friendships of their own.
Socializing for seniors in China is important. The time for socializing is usually when the grandchildren are in school or in the evening when the parents take over as primary caregivers. What was both interesting and surprising is how seniors combine socializing with fitness.
Based on both observation and anecdotal evidence from people we encountered, the fitness activity of choice for seniors in China is dance. Yes I said dance.
The affection Chinese Seniors have for dance can’t be overstayed. They love to dance. They literally dance from morning until night. They dance in parks, public spaces and even on sidewalks. They dance traditionally. They dance to salsa music, country country music and even rock music. In the morning, one public promenade we visited there were at least five separate dance groups, some with more than 50 participant. Our young tour guide referred to these daily gatherings as “weird old people morning disco dance party.” Each group dancing a different style. Their dance is usually choreographed and looks like line dancing. Whether they are beginners or retired professional dancers, their passion and love for dancing uninhibited in public is blissful. They were also pleased to welcome visitors to their groups and patiently offered informal instruction.
Public parks are equipped with various apparatus to support fitness and exercise. From traditional gymnastics equipment to other equipment that helps with stretching and toning are readily available. Various groups practice yoga and Tai Chi. Power walking is also popular. However, dancing is by far the most popular. They dance dance whenever and wherever they maybe for in China seniors are truly the Lords and Ladies of the dance.