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Aging society approaches China with hurry steps
Zeng Huaqing, a 65-year-old retiree in the Fazhan Community, Wuhan City of central China's Hubei Province, brings with her a red card wherever she goes, on which are printed service items and telephone numbers provided by her community.

"I can offer services like cleaning, washing, cooking and plumbing with this service contact card," said Zeng, whose husband passed away last year, while her two sons rarely came home to see her due to their busy jobs.

"Life is comfortable, though I live alone. I call the community whenever I need help," she said.

China has over 130 million senior citizens,with the annual increase rate of 3.2 per cent

China reports over 34 million retirees, just like Zeng, according to the latest statistics released by the Ministry of Labor and Social Security.

Meanwhile, China is moving rapidly towards an aging society, registering over 130 million elderly, about 10 percent of the total population, and the figure will keep growing at an annual rate of 3.2 percent in the next half century. Statistics also show that China has now at least 23.4 million "empty nesters", or senior citizens, both married and the widowed, in a family without children around.

China has actively promoted community services for the elderly. State-owned enterprises have been allowed since 1999 to break away from the management of their retirees, encouraging communities, which usually cover several residential quarters, to provide matching services. Before that, retirees relied on enterprises to organize their life, from spare-time activities to funerals.

"This not only promotes enterprises to reduce burdens and deepen reforms, but also enables the elderly to lead a stable and happy life due to more considerate and attentive community services," said Zhang Jianhua, director of Hangzhou Labor and Social Security Bureau.

Communities take the heavy task of taking care of elderly from enterpises

Presently, computer networks containing detailed information on every retiree have been established in most city communities of China, which helps ensure the punctual distribution of pensions.

"My monthly 720-yuan pension comes to me on time every month, and my living is guaranteed," said Liu Xiaofang, a 56-year-old retiree in the Jiangzhi Community, Nanchang City of east China's Jiangxi Province. "It is also convenient for us to see the doctor, since the community has its own medical center." Pension and medical care are two major concerns of the elderly.

Liu Yongfu, vice-minister of the Labor Ministry, said that communities should play a key role in improving the life of the elderly in an all-around way, especially after their basic living has been secured.

In most city communities of China, activity centers, including reading rooms, fitness rooms, table tennis and chess rooms, have been established. Communities also set up art groups, like choirs, dancing and Tai Chi, and organize contests among the elderly to enrich their life.

Wei Shaofen, a 57-year-old retiree in Hongling community, Hangzhou City of east China's Zhejiang Province, is one of the millions of retirees returning from enterprises to communities, which usually cover several neighboring residential quarters.

"We feel extremely happy," Wei said.

Wei, a zealot for the many activities undertaken by the elderly people in the community, practices Tai Chi at 6:30 every morning in the community grounds, and reads newspapers and magazines in the afternoon in the activity room.

She also practices singing with her friends in the choir every Monday and Wednesday night.

Wei and her old friends in the choir are very satisfied with their current life.

"Singing is far beyond killing time," said choir head Chen Baowen.

"We are often invited to perform at evening parties organized by communities or sub-districts. Despite our age, we still want to show others our talents through the performance. Each member of the chorus is full of passion for our future life."

Senior citizens engage in various activities to enrich their life

In contrast to the liveliness of the singers, Shao Xinnong, a 70-year-old retiree also living in Hongling community, prefers to stay quietly in the computer room.

"I have learnt some computer knowledge from the community training school for the aged. It's a pleasure for me to browse through news on websites, which usually have faster information than newspapers and televisions." Shao said.

Community training schools for the aged, targeting senior citizens' interests, are now very popular in cities of China's eastern coastal provinces Zhejiang and Fujian.

The training school in Yushan community, Fuzhou City of Fujian, has designed diversified courses for the elderly, including calligraphy, poems, painting, exercises, English, computer study, Tai Chi, music and dancing.

Since it opened over a year ago, 336 old people have attended the classes, with the oldest 88 years old.

"It's the loneliness and emptiness that the elderly fear most. Our courses are open for them free of charge and many have flooded to sign in. To many old people, learning has made their life more meaningful," said Chen Shuqin, a retiree who established Yushan Training School.

"We often gather for reading and exchanging ideas," said 55-year-old Zhong Shengbai, who has been elected as head of the retirees in the Douyaxiang Community of Nanchang. "We sometimes help the community clean the streets, organize art activities and aid the poor family, which makes our life colorful and meaningful."

Community management still has a long way to go

The Ministry of Civil Affairs has invested over 5 billion yuan (604 million US dollars) in community infrastructures nationwide. More than 50,000 special organizations for the elderly have been founded throughout China, which has benefited some 800,000 elderly people.

China has at least 70 newspapers and magazines targeted at elderly readers, with a circulation of nearly 10 million. Meanwhile, more than 3.3 million volunteers are providing services for the elderly across the country.

Pi Dehai, deputy director of the Social Insurance Administration with the Labor Ministry, said that China has brought about one-third of the retirees into community management, but that was "not enough".

"Since community management is just at its primary stage in China, we still have a long way to go in this regard," he added.

Beijing has 247 centenarians

The Chinese capital boasted 247 centenarians by the end of 2003, a rise of 57 over 2001, Beijing Daily reported.

Female centenarians account for approximately 80 percent of the total, including three aged over 110 years old, and 209 centenarians, or 84.6 percent of the total, are urbanites, according to statistics of the Beijing Municipal Committee on Ageing (BMCA).

The Beijing News earlier cited the BMCA as saying that by the end of 2003, the number of the senior citizens aged at and above 60 living in the city's urban area is estimated at over 1.2 million.

According to a recent survey conducted by the Beijing Municipal Research Center on Ageing, the secret for longevity of those centenarians could own much to, among others, the natural way of living, good-quality sleep and rational eating, open-mindedness and a good temper, as well as fine family living environment.

Statistics from the Ministry of Civil Affairs show that China has already become an ageing society with a high-age population rate, and the country now 134 million people, or 10 percent of the national total, at and over the age of 60. Experts said the figure could keep rising at an annual rate of 3.2 percent in the next half century.

Nation boasts 425,000 associations for lederly

China has set up 425,000 associations for its elderly people, whose number grows about three percent yearly, according to sources with a relevant government office on aging on Thursday.

About 66 percent of urban communities and 56 percent of rural villages have founded such associations, said sources, noting that China will pay more attention to the aging problem in vast rural areas.

In the year 2000, China already had 130 million elderly people over 60 years old, and the number of those in the age group over 80 increases by five percent annually, the figures showed.

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