Nantong, January 13
A towering bronze sculpture of the God of Longevity watches over the city of Rugao in east China’s Nantong, which is home to an astounding over 1,200 centenarians.
The imposing statue which stands in the garden of longevity is said to artistically depict Chinese deity ‘Shouxing’, a bearded old man with a high brow, carrying a crooked staff in one hand, and holding the peach of immortality in his other hand.
The local government prides itself on the large count of people, aged over 100 years, living in Nantong - a port city, attributing it also to healthy habits, fresh air and beauty of nature, blessed by the Yangtze, the “mother river of China”.
According to senior officials in the Nantong administration, the prefecture-level city, located about 120-kilometer from Shanghai, had 1,205 centenarians till November last year.
Perhaps, the most famous region in east China for being the abode of centenarians is Rugao, a county-level city in Nantong in Jiangsu province.
The number of centenarians in Rugao had reached 524 by January 1, an increase of 84 over the previous year, according to a recent report by the state-run China Daily, quoting the local civil affairs bureau.
The report published on Nantong administration’s website also said that there were 16 centenarians aged 105 or above.
Rugao currently has a permanent population of 1.42 million, with 3,91,700 aged 60 and above, 65,200 aged 80 and above, and 9,200 aged 90 and above.
These numbers are much higher than the provincial and national averages, it said.
Yang Deying, 110, is the oldest centenarian in Rugao.
“She enjoys her life now with his family and spends time with her great-grand son too. The whole family is having a very wonder life,” according to an official at the China Daily.
“Yang can still hear, see things, this is an ideal life of someone whose age is more than 100 years. One of her sons, and a daughter-in-law take care of her every day. She has other children too,” the official said.
The state-run English daily in partnership with the Jiangsu local government, recently organised a visit to the province for 15 journalists from several countries, who had also visited elderly care centres in Nantong and two other cities.
In a community park in the heart of Nantong in Hongqiao subdistrict, old men can be seen practising Tai Chi (shadow boxing) or reading newspapers, while old women in group perform dance routines inside the elderly-care service centre, neighbouring it.
The subdistrict in Chongchuan district has 35,000 families living with a population of around 100,000, according to officials.
“Nearly 18,000 old people live in this area. Through our elderly-care centre, we provide food and other needed services to a section of those people. Medical services are also available at the centre, besides recreational facilities to make them feel engaged. Many volunteers also visit disabled elderly at home to take care of them,” a senior official said.
“Many of their children are working, so these old people come here and interact with each other, eat food and play games to keep themselves fit and occupied,” he said.
Healthy diet and sleeping habits, as well as a convivial environment, are believed to have contributed to longevity in Rugao, earning it the moniker of ‘city of longevity’.
“We want our Nantong to be a world-class city. Work going on expanding the urban infrastructure and a new bridge being built to connect faster to Shanghai. But, Nantong is also a city having fresh air and the blessing of mother river Yangtze, so many people live for over 100 years,” a senior official of Nantong administration said.
The historic city of Nantong is home to several old Chinese gardens, Langshan Mountain National Forest Park, and various architectural heritage.
Located on the confluence of Yangtze River, Yellow Sea and East China Sea, the convergence lends Nantong the sobriquet of ‘Great Pearl from Yangtze River and Sea’.
In this salubrious environment, it is not uncommon in Rugao to see several centenarian couples celebrating golden jubilee of their wedding anniversaries, grandparents celebrating birthdays after crossing 100-year mark.
China has witnessed a rise in people’s average life expectancy over the years, from 74.83 years in 2010 to 76.7 years in 2017, according to the National Health Commission.
The average life expectancy for Chinese will go up to 77 years by 2020, one year more than the figure in 2015, the health authorities in Beijing had earlier said.
Chinese view long life as a special blessing and on birthdays and other special occasions for elders, visitors bow before the statue of the God of Longevity, to seek blessings, locals said.
Nantong was named the first “longevity capital of the world” by the International Society of Natural Medicine and the World Longlife Township Accreditation Committee, according to a 2019 Chinese government publication on the city. —PTI
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