Golden age of the neo-young

Who says we have to act our age? For many retirees, the older years are a delightful rediscovery of young passions.
Golden age of the neo-young

A group of retirees have fun practicing photography at a park as part of a photography course at a school for the elderly.

Diana Xu, 56, retired last year, but that hasn’t turned her into a homebody with knitting needles. She loves to travel and even arranges trips for a group of retired friends.

Using just her smartphone, Xu booked five rooms at a hot springs hotel in Fujian Province and purchased 10 tickets on high-speed rail. She sent the ticket information to her friends through WeChat, along with tips about weather, nearby tourist sites and local specialty food.

“I have always loved traveling,” she says. “I dreamed about traveling all over the world. Unfortunately, I never had the time until now. I am ready to go!”

Xu is the face of a new generation of retirees in China, who are happy to explore new possibilities and have digital savvy.

It’s a stark contrast to the stereotyped image of older Chinese people who sit at home with grandchildren playing at their knees, who play mahjong the whole day, or who have no idea how to navigate the Internet. For many of these new age retirees, the world is suddenly their oyster, with endless possibilities to explore.

Many are avid online users.

According to the China Internet Network Information Center, the number of netizens 50 years and older has expanded rapidly in the last 17 years. Last year alone, senior netizens comprised about 10 percent of Chinese online users.

A survey of more than 800 WeChat users 50 years and older by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and Tencent Social Research Center found that more than half can make payments via their smartphones, about a third can shop online and about a quarter call taxi through apps.

Golden age of the neo-young
Ti Gong

Diana Xu shares a casual moment with local children during a trip to Bali, Indonesia.

Golden age of the neo-young
Ti Gong

Diana Xu enjoy her time in Bali.

Xu is just one of the trendy retirees who can use a smartphone to organize her daily life. She is adept at taking advantage of time-limited, low-cost travel products that come available when people cancel bookings at the last minute. It is not difficult to grab such bargains if one has the time and persistence. Xu says she once snagged a five-day cruise at half price just two weeks before departure.

“All you need is a free schedule and a ready-to-go heart,” says Xu.

Travel isn’t the only siren call for seniors.

It had never occurred to 61-year-old former accountant Qian Suqin that she would become a qipao model in her late 50s.

A slump in the stock market four years ago triggered Qian’s first foray beyond the world of numbers. At the recommendation of friends, she took a modeling course at the University for the Elderly and fell in love with modeling.

“I was astonished when I first saw the seniors at the school modeling in qipao,” she says, referring to the traditional, body-hugging Chinese dress. “Everyone was so beautiful and confident, like elegant swans on a lake. And I wished I could be like that one day.”

With a gifted slim figure and plenty of practice, Qian quickly had the chance to perform at the annual school show, and she was later recruited by a community-based qipao team of models 50 years and older.

Qian’s life has been so busy with modeling and the new friends she has made that she’s hardly given any thought to the locked-up shares she still holds.

She was doing modeling every two or three months until the birth of a grandson last year. His arrival caused her to give up some shows that required days in other cities.

However, she’s not giving modeling up altogether.

“It is always appropriate for a lady to pursue beauty and elegance, regardless of age,” she says. “What I have learned from modeling has transformed my life, and I will never give it up.”

Qian takes time from babysitting duties every Monday morning to attend the modeling course.

“It is tiring to look after a baby, even though I love my grandson very much,” she says. “But a half day with qipao and friends injects me with happiness and positive energy that sustain me through the rest of the week.”

Qian keeps more than a dozen qipao, which she also wears for gatherings with friends and family. She has promised herself to keep up personal elegance to her dying day.

Golden age of the neo-young
Ti Gong

Slender and elegant, Qian Suqin (third from right) and her friends stage a qipao show.

Golden age of the neo-young
Ti Gong

Qian Suqin (left) with one of her qipao team members

Other retirees are finding no end of undeveloped talent that they now have the time to refine.

Retired office worker Jiang Yong, 63, always liked to cook but he never really developed advanced kitchen skills. So when he received a brochure about a community-based school early this year, he jumped at the chance to take a cooking course that covers dishes he has never tried before.

“I have always believed that it is better to eat homemade meals,” he says. “But my repertoire was mostly standard home dishes. The course has allowed me to explore further.”

Rather than following exactly what the teacher says, Jiang likes to experiment a bit. In a variation on corn pancakes, he made yam pancakes with a tomato sauce. In his own variation of the traditional squirrel-shaped, sweet-and-sour mandarin fish, he made sweet-and-sour, lightly fried spareribs.

Apart from treating his own family, Jiang often invites friends over to try on his new creations.

“A friend who hated yam ate five of my yam pancakes,” says Jiang. “As an amateur cook, there is nothing more satisfying than seeing everyone’s plates empty.”

Sociologist Gu Xiaoming, noting the new trend of retirees, thinks it’s a positive sign. What was considered “old” a few years back isn’t considered so anymore, he says.

Life spans have been lengthening with advanced medical science, and the rich information sources provided by the Internet are keeping mindsets younger.

“There are quite a number of middle-aged and aged people who stay up on the latest ideas and have the time and interest in learning new things,” Gu says. “I would describe some of today’s retirees as ‘youth rediscovered’.”

Golden age of the neo-young
Jiang Yong / Ti Gong

Two retirees learn baking tips at a community school for the elderly.

Special Reports