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This blog wishes it be known that the opinions presented herein are the sole responsibility of the author, and do not represent the feelings, opinions, ideas, or conclusions of any affiliated organization or group. Additionally, the author has chosen to keep the blog confidential during the Olympic Games 2008, as the reaction of the PRC towards foreign opinion remains ungauged. Thanks for reading.
Beijingfuturesdreams, 2008

Monday, August 4, 2008

August -- The Futures Present Opinion: As we get older...

As we get older…

As I wrote in July, China is facing an aging population due to the “One Child Policy” instigated in 1979. Coming from the United States, where population aging has caused an explosion of retirement communities, needs for medical care, and interest in healthy living and lifestyles, I was curious to know what the effects of population aging would be here in the PRC.

As I approached my work on my first day of employment here, I walked through a small urban green space: Hong Ling Jin park. Named after the thin red scarves worn by many of China’s children during the 70’s and 80’s, the park was teeming with retirees at 7am. A breadth of activity and exercise occupied the thousands of elderly in the park that morning. Exercise routines, baton twirling, the “feather hack” (Jian Zi), ballroom dance, singing, instrument playing, kite flying, calligraphy practice, chess, and simple strolling all occupy these retirees time. They are outdoors, involved in health promoting activities, social, and consistent. Everyday, I walk through the same crowds, and every night as I leave they are still there. They do take a pause for lunch and the afternoon rest time that is traditionally upheld here, and from 11am until 4pm, the park remains relatively unoccupied.

Here are people between the ages of 50 and 80, exercising daily, and doing their part to maintain this park that they collectively see as their responsibility. Unpaid workers walk the grounds, dusting off park benches, cleaning the chrome of the artistic installations, and weeding the flowerbeds. As in most parks in China, touching the grass is strictly forbidden, and there is a small amount of reprimanding any individuals who fail to notice the signs promoting grass awareness. The surrounding community has become the source of the parks draw, as opposed to other areas of Beijing where green space is preserved for historic merit and tourism potential.

It is my opinion that the park was not created with the intention of becoming a haven for the neighborhood’s elderly. Rather I think this park stands as an example of the societies will towards longevity, and the concept of personal health held by some of the city’s aging working class.

This park is situated in one of the city’s districts that has yet to see a complete overhaul in land-use and development. It is in the middle of transitioning between the low style houses to the haze-hidden skyscrapers. Outside of my office building the rubble from a Hutong area sits covered by tarps, waiting for the construction limitations to end and the re-commencement of the building of another 6-lane through-street. Within the year, it is likely that the face of the neighborhood will have seen a dramatic alteration, as the wide avenue will bring with it new store fronts, high-end living communities, a relocation of many residents.

So, while median income in the area remains relatively low, Hong Ling Jin park stands as testament to the “people’s” solution to aging. Health and longevity can be better maintained through regular exercise, social interaction, and cultivation of skills, and public areas provide the space necessary for these activities. Is it therefore possible to say that alongside the forecasted aging of China’s population, we will see an accompanying trend in the development of urban green space, where these new retirees can go for recreation?

Such a trend would certainly coincide with the stated direction of China’s development, a topic we will cover in more depth during August.

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