Most of them spent two-three decades as part of the rat race, pursuing promotions and pay raises, even as they raised their families and fulfilled other responsibilities. Now in their sunset years, Chinese retirees are finding that they no longer have to put their dreams and yearning for creativity and adventure on hold. Senior citizens like the elegant foursome Glamma Beijing that offers style and makeup tips, or Sister Wang is Coming, a trio that makes funny music videos featuring novelty rap about food, are the new social media sensations in China, finding viral fame, following and influence.
These retirees are far from the conventionally imagined ideals of grandparents, finding fulfillment in pursuing hobbies — and even second careers — thanks to the opportunities offered by the internet. Seen one way, this is a sign of growing emancipation from strictly-defined roles, an understanding that leaving the workforce could mean the beginning of a new kind of life. In more developed societies, this understanding has existed for a long time, with retirees encouraged to pursue hobbies, travel and form new friendships. Seen another way, however, it indicates a deeper social upheaval in the making for traditional societies such as China or even India: If the elderly aren’t around to offer free caregiving or babysitting duties, as they are typically expected to do, who will fulfil them? Are there extra-familial systems that are robust enough to smoothly take their place? And who will pay for them?
As populations in some parts of the world age more rapidly than others — China is starting to go grey faster than almost any other country — these questions will need to be addressed with greater urgency. At the moment, India has the advantage of a youthful population — it is not something to be frittered away. Citizens of any age must have the freedom to shed traditional roles and it is for the state to ensure that the conditions are right for them to do so unhindered.