The Retirees' Park Life in Beijing

Soloist in Mao SuitEthnic DancingI like to visit the many parks in Beijing. Many were built by China's past emperors as royal gardens and they often house pagodas, temples, and old residences. These days, the parks are full of different sounds, noises, and activities as they are used as show places for various folk arts and activities. Many people who spend time at parks during the day are middle-aged or the elderly – this is due to China’s retirement policies, which stipulates that the official retirement age is as low as 50 for women and 60 for men. These people are still mentally and physically active, and go to parks to seek out other people in their age range who share similar interests. They are at the parks every day - not only walking and talking with each other, but also performing martial arts, playing badminton, and doing ”backward walking,” (walking backward to improve and balance blood circulation). There are also people practicing more traditional Chinese leisure activities, such as kite flying, and Chinese yoyo. There are even calligraphers writing characters on cement ground with huge sponge pens (instead of using ink, they dip their sponge pen in the water bucket and write on the ground. The writing dries up quickly and will not smear the grounds at all, so they can keep practicing it at the same place.)

CalligrapherAdditionally, there are all kinds of music and dances – graceful ballroom dances accompanied by beautiful music as well as ethnic dances in which people dressed in costume perform folk dancing. Solo and chorus groups pick their favorite places to rehearse folk songs, popular songs, or patriotic songs, and fans of Beijing Opera sing loudly with their unique Chinese fiddle called erhu. I even saw a trio of harmonica players, carefully reading their sheet music as they played. Some of these retirees even play western-style music with guitars and tambourines.

Calligraphy ToolsMixed in with traditional leisure activities are always people playing board games – but instead of western chess and checkers, one finds Chinese chess and mahjong. Strangers are usually welcomed by most groups and, if you do not like the music or activities in one park, there are always other parks to go to instead.

With the cost of health care going up in China, exercising and staying active in public parks is a way for these retirees to stay healthy. A woman in a dance group told me “Yes I like to dance. I do this every day. I think it gives me strength and brings me health and happiness. Healthy and Happy life is not self-built-in; it does not come automatically. You need to put in effort to get it. It is a long-term investment. The good harvest is along the road somewhere." She said instead of watching TV alone at home, she would rather go out to meet and talk to other people. She believes that collective thinking works better when she needs advice, and her thoughts are stimulated by input from others. “It is a good way to exercise your mind and delay Alzheimer’s disease.” she added. The population of the elderly (60 or older) in China is about 128 million or one in every ten people, which is about 40% the entire population of the United States. Park life in China presents a version of retirement life unlike anything seen in the West. There are many ways to grow old, but few societies do it as colorfully as this one.

-Jean at West Windsor

Dancers in the parkInstrumentalists in the park


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