2023 Yearender: Senior vloggers embrace vibrant twilight years in fashionable ways, showcase a more dignified old age with stronger security
Published: Dec 27, 2023 09:18 PM
Editor's Note:

The end of the year and the start of a new one is a time for reflection and anticipation. Throughout 2023, the Chinese society has undergone various developments and changes, which manifest the exploration and practice of the Chinese path to modernization.

In light of this, the Global Times is launching a series that elaborates on this unique path through the stories of ordinary people's New Year's wishes. These wishes serve as a window to the changes and achievements of Chinese society as Chinese modernization has brought Chinese people more concrete consensus, a more vibrant countryside, more imaginative innovation, more balanced education, a more dignified old age with stronger security, and a more confident civilization. This shows that Chinese modernization is the prerequisite and driving force for the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. 

This is the fifth installment in the "Wish List" series, telling the story of a group of vibrant elderly vloggers living out their twilight years with youthful vitality. This new-age silver generation's New Year's wish is for their later years to be "fresher, happier, and more carefree." What truly supports their wishes is a more secure, considerate, elderly-friendly system endowed by Chinese modernization.

Members of the

Members of the "Fashion Grandmas" dressed in traditional costumes rehearse for a performance on a television show in Beijing, on April 14, 2021. Photo: VCG

In a short video, silver-haired "Grandma Wu" demonstrates various physics experiments using everyday items. She uses an iron pot to simulate the radio telescope, a broom to simulate cosmic rays in space, a badminton racket to simulate a positron-electron collider, and ginkgo leaves to make origami butterflies. Grandma Wu also invites the viewer to speculate whether the universe has an end and whether parallel universes truly exist.

At 73, the retired university professor boasts a following of more than 1.72 million subscribers after around three years of posting on video-sharing social media platform Bilibili and another 5.2 million followers on Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, becoming China's latest internet influencer as science education gains mass appeal.

In late 2022, the "silver-haired knowledge vlogger" group, which went viral, won the "Touching China 2022 Annual Figures" award. The average age of the 13 vloggers was 77 years old, and Wu was among them. They include academicians at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, retired university professors, and ex-elementary and middle school teachers. They use trendy language, short videos and live broadcasts to share scientific and humanistic knowledge that young people are interested in. Unlike the traditional stereotypical impression of the elderly in Chinese society, these bloggers represent a new image in the eyes of young people.

They are pictures of twilight-age vitality, enjoying life on their own terms, rather than only focusing on the busy lives of their children and grandchildren.

Living in a society of accelerated population aging, how can we ensure that the elderly have support, happiness, and security in their old age? How can institutionalized guarantees bring about a more dignified later life and enable them to embrace more possibilities? These "fashionable seniors" active on short video platforms provide us with answers.

Wu Yuren demonstrates a physics experiment at a reading activity in Shanghai, on July 2, 2023. Photo: Courtesy of Wu

Wu Yuren demonstrates a physics experiment at a reading activity in Shanghai, on July 2, 2023. Photo: Courtesy of Wu

Passion for life never fades

Wu had the idea of making short videos as early as 2018. In her popular science videos, she breaks away from the seriousness of traditional physics classrooms and explains unfamiliar concepts in plain terms. For Wu, inspiring curiosity in young people is one of the most fulfilling things she has been longing for, and she is using this dream to inspire the dreams of more youngsters.

In a recent interview with the Global Times, Wu said that years of physics and science education have made her realize that people can only maintain a desire to learn if they maintain curiosity. "Having conversations with young people in their way" is one of Wu's current wishes. She hopes to convey the enthusiasm she presents in front of the camera to all young people who watch her videos, helping them see their self-worth, gain confidence and a sense of responsibility, learn how to conduct research, collaborate effectively, and dare to challenge themselves.

Wu's busy schedule and energy level are no less than those of young people today. She also devotes herself to online courses, offline lectures, and scientific education practice activities. The vibrant and energetic life she presents in front of the camera has become the envy of and an aspiration to many young people.

The silver-haired vlogger's New Year's wish is for her later years to be "fresher, happier, and more carefree." 

Wang Li (left) takes part in a skit with fellow elderly at the Jingya nursing home. Feng Yan (front row, center) arranges props and scripts for the elderly. Photo: Courtesy of Feng

Wang Li (left) takes part in a skit with fellow elderly at the Jingya nursing home. Feng Yan (front row, center) arranges props and scripts for the elderly. Photo: Courtesy of Feng

Cares from youngsters never late

"Bob" is the English name given to Wang Li, a 62-year-old who lives in the Jingya nursing home in North China's Tianjin Municipality. After the popularity of the short drama video series in which Wang participated, an English blogger specially visited the nursing home and gave each elderly person a trendy English name. Since April, "Funny Things in the Funny Nursing Home" has gained over 1 million fans online, with the highest-viewed video gaining over 200 million views. In the videos, the nursing home residents are optimistic and cheerful, and never shy away from discussing aging and death. 

One of the common themes in the short drama series is popularizing chemical knowledge. In the short video, 90-year-old Yu Youfang, who used to be a chemistry teacher at a high school in Tianjin, leans on a walking aid and holds a teaching cane to tap on the table. She is surrounded by a group of students in their seventies and eighties who even wear high school uniforms donated by their grandchildren. In this chemistry class scenario, there are always "students" causing explosions or producing poisonous gas due to "improper operation." The "students" are then comically carried away on stretchers in the classroom, hooked up to IV drips, and occasionally need oxygen as part of first aid remedies administered in adjoining classrooms... Netizens rightly albeit jokingly note: "Attending class is quite 'killing' students."

One of the main characters in the series, Bob, used to be an entrepreneur. He suffered a stroke in his middle age, leaving him with the sequelae of being unable to lift his left arm. Illness, divorce, and the death of his mother... A series of tragedies once left this man in his early 60s completely devastated. When he first arrived at the nursing home, he hardly socialized with anyone. He would always sit alone on the edge of the bed, with the skin on his fingertips discolored from smoking.

After joining the short video cast, Bob's life has turned a new page. He likes the feeling of being greeted in the videos by younger netizens, and has also ventured out of the nursing home with his companions to see the sea for the first time. 

Feng Yan, one of the creators of the video series at the nursing home, told the Global Times that the original intention for filming was to eliminate public fear of nursing homes and anxiety surrounding life and death. 

The content of the videos helps the elderly to awaken the memories of their youth. "We want to help them extend their social lives, reconnect with society, and make everyone feel cared for," Feng said. "In fact, most of these elderly people are not afraid of death, but are afraid of being forgotten." 

"To let others see their inner world, to see their vibrant state, is a dream that many elderly people in nursing homes cannot express," Feng said. 

The emerging creative trend of the silver generation is also gradually spreading in many nursing homes and senior universities in various cities. 

In another nursing home in Xuchang, Central China's Henan Province, residents wear sunglasses and "DJ" dynamic music. According to media reports, this nursing home not only provides free accommodation but also has recreational facilities such as e-sports rooms, cinemas, painting and calligraphy rooms, and small bars. Fan Jinlin, a Gen-Z nursing home owner, told media that he wants to tell people that the elderly are also trendy and love to have fun, and nursing homes can be full of vitality. 

At the same time, Chengdu University for the Aged has added many "trendy courses" in recent years, such as drone piloting, video editing, and even street dancing, all of which are fully booked according to media reports.

Guarantee and support never absent

A more comprehensive healthcare insurance system, an encouragement for the silver economy, an increased investment in elderly education resources, and a more open and diverse social culture - China is striving to establish an elderly-friendly society against the backdrop of a rapidly aging population. 

According to data released by the Chinese Ministry of Civil Affairs in December, by the end of 2022, the population aged 60 and above in China accounted for 19.8 percent of the total population, with the population aged 65 and above accounting for 14.9 percent, approaching the stage of moderate aging. 

Meanwhile, estimates by the National Health Commission predicted that by around 2035, the population aged 60 and above in China will exceed 400 million, accounting for over 30 percent of the total population. By then, China may enter the stage of severe aging.

Professor Li Chenghua from Nanjing University believes that Chinese modernization is complementary to actively addressing population aging. On one hand, the new goals and characteristics of Chinese modernization process provide new opportunities and guarantees for actively addressing population aging, helping to further establish a new situation of respecting and protecting the legitimate rights and interests of the elderly. On the other hand, the realization of Chinese modernization cannot be separated from the contributions of the elderly. 

Since the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC), China has actively addressed population aging problem by promoting the resolution of the practical needs of the elderly in areas such as elderly care, health, spiritual and cultural life, and social participation, and striving to meet the new expectations of hundreds of millions of elderly people for a better life.

As a practitioner in the elderly care industry, Feng feels increased societal attention to elderly issues and meticulous care for the elderly in his daily work. 

During a recent visit to a zoo organized by Jingya nursing home, Feng was deeply moved by the support of the volunteers throughout the journey. "We provided each elderly person with a wheelchair, and almost all public toilets had wheelchair-accessible facilities. Volunteers were enthusiastic in helping at every step. We also received many care packages from various sectors of society, some of which were anonymous," Feng said. 

He believes that a comprehensive elderly care service system is currently being built, and his wish is to see an age-friendly society; a civilized environment where the elderly can "be themselves freely." 

Chen Yuan, the head of Jingya nursing home, told the Global Times that he hopes to attract more young people to enter the elderly care industry and pay attention to the spiritual needs of the elderly through short videos. "The nursing home is not the last stop in the elderly's life, but another 'home' given to them by society," Chen said. 

Feng is increasingly proud of his profession. He knows that he is exploring a path of "building a more friendly society for the elderly" endowed by the Chinese modernization process. 

Holding up his phone and seeing "actor" Bob dancing happily like a child, Feng smiles on the other side of the camera. This moment connects his dream with the collective dreams of senior citizens in nursing homes across the country.