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15 July 2015

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Universities for the Elderly Enrich the Lives of Graying Population

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A student of a painting class at a university for the elderly in Changsha displays his drawing skills in a neighborhood. ZHANG XIAOYU/XINHUA

Aging citizens find renewed vigor and purpose as new policies start to see positive results

CHANGSHA-One week before the end of her course at a university for the elderly, Wu Yue'e was making notes for her speech as a student representative at the closing ceremony.

Wu, 72, has been a student for more than 10 years at Changsha Senior Cadre University in Hunan province, where she learned a number of new skills including reading and writing pinyin, using traditional Chinese medicine and playing the erhu.

Heading back to school for further study and cultural enrichment is becoming a choice of many Chinese senior citizens.


The greatest regret of Wu, an active participant in all facets of school life, is that she did not receive a full education when she was young.

"I have always loved literature, even though I dropped out of school very early," Wu said.

Before retirement, Wu was a textile worker who loved to read in her spare time. Her favorite book is The Count of Monte Christo by French author Alexandre Dumas.

After her retirement, she was able to fulfill her dream of studying at a university for the elderly. "I felt the elderly should keep up with the pace of social development, and I hadn't done well enough," said Wu.

Yin Jianlin, 57, had a similar experience. Five years ago, Yin retired, but was unable to adapt to retirement. "Once a person stops working, a sense of loss comes," Yin said.

In 2015, Yin enrolled at a university for the elderly to study folk dance and mental health. With the help of the mental health class, Yin also accepted her new role in life and learned to deal with her emotions.

"I used to take care of my family as my sole responsibility. Now I have learned to take care of myself, too," Yin said.

"Although we are old, we feel like we are still teenagers when dancing with our classmates," she said.

Students at a university for the elderly in Changsha, Hunan province, rehearse for a program before the Double Ninth Festival in 2018. ZHANG XIAOYU/XINHUA

Caring family

Although an increasing number of seniors are heading off in pursuit of self-fulfillment, a large percentage of the elderly in China remain the primary caregivers of their grandchildren, whose parents are tied down with busy work schedules.

Since 2014, Liu Yanping, a 37-year-old psychological consultant, has run courses on parenting and positive disciplining of children with her team in Changsha. Liu found that many children relied on their grandparents, rather than their parents, to learn about the world.

In 2017, Liu and her team set up a course of alternate-generation education at Changsha Senior Cadre University.

Huang Qijian, 60, who attended the course, has twin grandchildren, and learning how to properly educate and guide them has become his major concern. "My educational method is outdated," Huang said.

By learning advanced educational concepts and methods in the alternate-generation education class, many older people, like Huang, have learned how to balance the relationships between themselves, their children and their grandchildren.

"Having practiced the knowledge learned from the classes, I've found our family has become warmer and closer," Huang said.

Policies taking shape

Since China started becoming an aging society at the end of the 20th century, the proportion of the elderly in the total population has continued to grow.

From 2000 to 2018, the number of people age 60 and above increased from 126 million to 249 million, and the proportion of the elderly in the total population increased from 10.2 percent to 17.9 percent.

Chinese seniors now want to enrich their spare time and improve their quality of life by attending university and participating in community activities.

Statistics from the China Association of Universities for the Elderly show that by the end of 2018, China had 62,000 universities and schools for the elderly, with more than 8 million students attending classes and more than 5 million students participating through distance learning.

In November, the Communist Party of China Central Committee and the State Council jointly unveiled a medium-and long-term plan for responding proactively to the aging population, proposing to build a social environment marked by filial piety, respect for the elderly and protection of the aged.

The plan highlights improving the effective supply of labor in an aging society, which requires improving the quality of new members of the labor force, establishing a lifelong learning system for senior citizens, and striving to achieve more employment and create better-quality jobs.

Yin Jianlin and her classmates were sketching the image of perfect grandparents during a class. After counting more than a dozen virtues, all the students gathered to share their feelings.

Some said that perfect grandparents should be literate and good tempered, while others said a decent appearance was also indispensable.

Yin, however, had a different perspective. "There are no perfect grandparents, we can only try our best to be better," she said.

Source: Xinhua