The elderly backpacker who’s inspiring young Chinese


An elderly woman who has chosen a life of backpacking in her retirement has won millions of fans on Chinese social media.

The 73-year-old retired teacher, identified by Pear Video as Ms Qi, says she opted for travelling over providing live-in care to her descendants.

The short online video has ignited online debate about the traditional idea that China's elderly should move in with their children and spend the rest of their lives taking care of grandchildren.

"Why do elderly Chinese people have to do housework, and look after their children and grandchildren?" she tells Pear Video.

"We should have our own lives."

'A diary of memories'

Ms Qi says in the video that she has been travelling all her life, visiting countries in Europe, North America and Asia.

Pear Video followed her as she embarked on her latest trip to Quanzhou in China's southwest Fujian Province. She stays in a dormitory in the video, and says she saves money by travelling with students and sharing journey costs.

She says that meeting young people is one of the most important things about her travels. "I talk with them and they have lots of fresh things to say," she says.

Her mother is still alive, and Ms Qi says she video-calls the 92-year-old daily to let her know how she is, and frequently posts pictures on social media for her children and grandchildren.

"I have a public account," she says, "And I've had it for about five months. I write everything: my memories, my inspirations – a diary of memories for my children and grandchildren."

The three-minute video featuring Ms Qi has been viewed more than 11 million times on video website Miaopai.

It has received tens of thousands of comments on Chinese social media, including on the Sina Weibo microblog, with many users speaking with admiration for her as a free-spirited woman.

"An independent, enchanting woman," one says, "Her age is not an issue."

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Many users say that watching her enjoying her freedom has empowered them to speak about their own independence and decisions like whether to marry or have children.

"Why are Chinese parents always urging marriage and childbirth?" one asks.

"This is entirely the reason I don't want to have children – I am too much of a free-spirit," another says. "I would prefer to be one, free person."

"There is no meaning to marriage," another adds. "To be free is to be unrestrained, there is positivity in doing what you want to do."

'I hope I can be like her'

Ms Qi's video has also got social media users thinking critically about what the role of elderly people should be in family life.

"Filial piety", the Confucian value of showing respect towards parents, elders and ancestors, is an important value in Chinese society and culture, and it is culturally acceptable for the elderly to live with their children in their old age.

Many parents in China work long hours – or have to move away from their hometowns for work – so grandparents often take on a considerable child-rearing role.

But longer life expectancies, economic reform and a low birth rate mean China is now facing an ageing population crisis. By 2050, more than a quarter of the 1.4bn population will be over 65 years old.

The Chinese government believes its one-child policy prevented 400 million extra births. But since it was lifted in 2016, there has been no noticeable rise in people having a second child.

Women are also having children later in life, or not at all, and millions of people are set to have no descendents.

So online commenters are seeing Ms Qi as a new role model for old age.

"I hope I can be like her when I'm old," says one. Another adds: "There are not enough people like this: today's elderly seem to think that they can't be the same as when they were young.

"But we all have our own lives to think about."

BBC Monitoring reports and analyses news from TV, radio, web and print media around the world. You can follow BBC Monitoring on Twitter and Facebook.

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