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China Respects Centenarians with Allowances on Seniors' Day
    2008-10-07 15:22:31     Xinhua

At 114 years old He Wenzhang can still read the newspaper, with the help of a magnifying glass and the assistance of his son if there are words that he does not understand.

The centenarian in Shenyang, northeast China's Liaoning Province, is in generally good health, except that he's a little hard of hearing and has some difficulty walking.

But with a monthly "centenarian allowance" of 400 yuan (59 U.S. dollars) and the respect of family and the community, he has few worries.

He asks "Do you have a name card?" when being interviewed by Xinhua, and tells his youngest son, He Chang'an, 67, "Bring me my red coat," when a Xinhua photographer wants to take a photo.

Born on April 9, 1894, during the Qing Dynasty, He lived in a village in Heilongjiang Province and moved to the city of Shenyang at the age of 83 to live with Chang'an. His offspring exceeds 70 in four generations.

He neither smokes nor drinks, and is not fastidious about food. His blood fat, sugar and pressure levels are all normal, a recent health check showed. Doctors attributed his wellbeing to farm work in his younger days.

However, he had lived in a very small apartment, only eight square meters, with the family of Chang'an until 2000, when the local government, the company where the son worked and a property company jointly offered a 70-square-meter apartment worth 150,000 yuan.

On Tuesday he was one of China's 153 million people aged 60 marking Seniors Day, which falls on the "Double Ninth Festival", the ninth day of the ninth month in the lunar calendar. By the end of last year, this group accounted for 11.6 percent of the 1.3 billion population.

The oldest man is Sadiq Sawut, 121, in Kashgar, in the northwestern Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, and the oldest woman is 118, also in Xinjiang, according to the Gerontological Society of China.

The civil affairs department of the southern Hainan Province said last week the island boasted 1,112 centenarians. The provincial government will provide each of them with a monthly allowance of 1,500 yuan next year, up from 963 yuan at present.

In Hainan, the oldest woman is claimed to be 117, born in January 1891 and surnamed Guo. The oldest man is 109, according to a local newspaper.

In Xi'an, capital of the northwestern Shaanxi Province, the oldest people is a woman named Zhou Husi at the age of 115. The city has 64 centenarians and provides an allowance of 250 yuan to each.

The rapidly ageing population is a major strategic problem affecting economic and social development, says Vice Premier Hui Liangyu, also head of the China National Committee on Ageing (CNCA). The issue was important to the government as it reflected the traditional values of respect and care for the elderly.

"Empty-nesters", people living without any younger relatives, comprise about half of the total 153 million senior citizens.

The growing number of aged has increased the social security burden, where pensions are still low and rest homes are under-funded.

Traditionally, old people are looked after by their children, but this is becoming less possible as economic development increased mobility.

Fu Hongbing, 82, who lives alone in the southwestern city of Chengdu, has a home help paid for by the local government. The assistant comes to his home once a week to clean, cook, buying food and wash clothes for him.

The government of Chengdu's Chenghua District has also installed an emergency system at Fu's home, so that he can alert the neighborhood committee by pressing a button in case of illness or emergency. Fu calls the system a "security guard."

The district government has installed the systems in the homes of empty-nesters. This measure was hailed by the Ministry of Civil Affairs, which then introduced it to other parts of the country.

From 2005, several neighborhoods in downtown Shanghai began providing meals to senior residents at affordable prices. About 135,000 senior citizens in 210 neighborhoods can eat at neighborhood canteens, according to China Daily on Tuesday.

In 1989, China appointed the Double Ninth Festival as Seniors Day. Since then it has been marked by an ever growing number of people.



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