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Unrelenting Spirit
Age is just a number as energetic Chinese seniors continue to be active in all walks of life
By Fatima Bulla | VOL.10 August 2018 ·2018-08-21


Senior citizens work as volunteers at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit held in Qingdao, east China's Shandong Province (JIANG KEHONG)

Only five months in China, and I have noted with admiration the unrelenting spirit among the Chinese people, especially the elderly. Seniors' active involvement in different facets of life and the economy of the country run counter to the familiar attitude in some African countries of relegating the elderly to the rural areas. Whether it's by design or by default, many people upon reaching retirement age in Africa find themselves retracing their steps to rural areas. There are no plans laid out to absorb them into the system so that they continue to make a contribution to the socioeconomic development of the country. But in my experience this is not so in Chinese culture.

I have had numerous occasions to witness how the elderly in this society continue to be active contributors to the development of their country. And it was when an unrelenting middle-aged Chinese woman persuaded me to play table tennis for the first time in my life that I realized this is not by mere coincidence. There is a belief ingrained in Chinese people that transcends physical appearance and places: value in one's ability can make a difference.

I was trying to catch my breath during a break from my routine morning jog which normally takes me through the streets of central Beijing. But on that fateful day, I took a turn into a lovely park situated in the embassy area just 1 km from where I live. With my headphones on listening to a morning inspirational message, I joined the energetic Chinese people who had won the daily battle against laziness which conspires with the body to stay in bed.

As I took a breather, I walked to the outdoor table tennis court to watch the seniors swing the small racquet with an equally tiny ball. How they managed to control that ball remained a mystery. Soon, most of the elderly men were beckoning me to join in the game. I said, "Wo buhui (I can't play)," the only words I could utter in Chinese to register my inability to participate.

However, unrelentingly, one middle-aged woman dressed like a table tennis player shoved the small racquet into my left hand, figuratively stating that the game was on. For about 30 minutes, she patiently guided me on how to handle the small racquet, control my energy on the small ball and position myself around the table. And she did so using her body movements. All the while the language barrier failed to deter our new found relationship.

Well, as they say the rest is history. Now, I can confidently walk up to a table tennis court and play thanks to a Chinese woman's unrelenting spirit. However, this spirit is not limited to keeping a consistent active sporting regimen. I have seen the elderly involved in various sectors including tourism, entertainment and other developmental activities. I have visited Hainan, Hubei and Guangdong provinces and have been a first-hand witness to how the elderly still contribute to the development of China. In villages in south China's Hainan Province, the elderly are part of the cultural kaleidoscope which includes traditional displays, art and handiwork such as weaving and molding.

At the Great Wall of China, Forbidden City and National Museum of China, I have watched the elderly taking part in tourist exhibitions or visiting tourist attractions. At the Beijing Folk-Custom Performance, I also noted a senior participant mesmerizing the audience with his handiwork, while in central China's Hubei Province, many elderly people take part in productive agricultural activities. This unrelenting spirit continues even into manual work like cleaning and sweeping pavements or passageways where Chinese seniors continue to be active participants.

It's a deliberate action and is best summarized by a quote in Chinese President Xi Jinping's book titled Xi Jinping: The Governance of China (II).

It states, "When the people are firm in their convictions, the country will prosper and the nation will grow stronger."

(The writer is a Zimbabwean journalist in China)

(Comments to niyanshuo@chinafrica.cn)

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