Urbanization has left only the elderly as stewards of the countryside

When reporters from Xi’an’s Huashang Daily asked 99-year-old Yu Fangyin about his secret to longevity, he told them he drinks 10 kilograms of rice wine every month. His daughter, in the same report, said that her father smokes as well and doesn’t really have any other interests, except perhaps getting married as a centenarian.

The local newspaper was collecting amusing health advice from the elderly residents of Shuping, a Shaanxi community of about 5,000 people, where the average life expectancy is well above the national average of 75 years. A similar fascination with elderly communities is being played out on the other side of the country, in southern China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. The village of Bama has been enjoying a boom in tourists seeking better health, due the advanced age of the residents supposedly being proof of beneficial geo-magnetic forces or longevity-boosting water. Researchers, however, point out that it’s a mountainous, underdeveloped region, and the advanced ages are more likely due to the once-isolated population and natural selection.

Not all rural villages packed with elderly are doing as well as Bama and Shuping. Health problems, increased rates of suicide, and families that have been separated by the forces of urbanization are all features that have come to define the experience of living in China’s countryside as an elderly person.

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David Dawson is the former deputy editor of The World of Chinese.

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