KTVs becoming the haunt for Chinese elderly

Once the first choice of entertainment for the nation's youth, KTV bars are now becoming the favored hangout for China's elderly.

Once the first choice of entertainment for the nation’s youth, KTV bars are now becoming the favored hangout for China’s elderly.

Huang Guizhen, 70, jumps on a bus on a bright cold morning, heading toward Milo KTV in Chongwenmen, near Tian’anmen Square. 

It is one of over 2,000 karaoke venues in Beijing, which are slowly replacing parks as the most popular place for China’s elderly to party.

As the KTV opens at 10am, hundreds of senior citizens rush to bag the best rooms. Many have even booked in advance.

Carrying thermal flasks and bags of fruit and snacks, they will stay in the windowless rooms for the next eight hours, singing, snacking and having a good gossip.

Huang is tired after the three-hour bus trip, but relaxes as soon as she sets eyes on her old friends — six former colleagues, the oldest aged 76.

As lyrics stream across the TV screen, she belts out a few of her favorite pop-tunes — first a number by well-known singer Dao Lang, then one by Taiwanese hearthrob Jay Chou.

Her audience sit on a sofa, laughing, cheering, and wolfing down peanuts like there is no tomorrow.

“It’s just a bit of fun,” Huang says.

China has an aging population. The number of people over 60 reached 16.7 percent of the population at the end of 2016, and by 2030 this will hit 25 percent.

In order to get the elderly out more and improve their quality of life, the China Culture & Entertainment Industry Association teamed up with the Chinese entertainment industry to launch a program called “Sunshine Entertainment, Sunset Glow.”

More than 200 entertainment firms in 23 provincial regions joined the program, which offers free or discounted recreational activities such as daytime karaoke to people over 50, benefiting millions of seniors.

The program has made karaoke affordable for the elderly. A room for 10, with free coffee and water, costs under 100 yuan (US$15) during the day at the Milo KTV branch in Chongwenmen.

Sun Yiqing, 71, one of Huang’s friends, met her in the 1960s when they volunteered at an auto factory in Shaanxi Province.

“When people grow old, they enjoy spending intimate time with old friends. We have visited nearly all the parks in Beijing. We need more recreational choices,” says Sun, a Beijinger.

Li Mingrui, manager of the KTV venue, says the emergence of karaoke as an entertainment for the elderly offers a great pastime for China’s aging society and a great solution for China’s declining KTV industry.

“It’s a win-win situation ... as gray-haired consumers can help the popularity of a declining karaoke industry,” says Li, whose KTV joined the program in late July.

Karaoke has flourished in nearly every town and city on the Chinese mainland since it was imported from Japan in the 1990s.

“The years from 2004 to 2008 were the golden period for KTVs on the Chinese mainland. They were a popular hangout for young people,” Li says.

In the boom years, his KTV could receive over 1,000 visitors a day. There was always a long queue outside, and they even needed police officers to enhance security on Christmas eve.

It is now the older generation’s turn to sing. 

Special Reports