Elderly residents thrive in "people's city" of Xiong'an

(Xinhua) 10:26, October 16, 2023

This photo taken with a mobile phone shows a group of elderly residents who practice Hebei Bangzi, a genre of Chinese opera, at the Nanwen Community Elders Service Center in Xiong'an New Area, north China's Hebei Province, Sept. 17, 2023. (Xinhua/Zhu Shaobin)

XIONG'AN, Hebei, Oct. 14 (Xinhua) -- On a bright autumn day in September, in a room on the second floor of a service center for the elderly in Xiong'an New Area, north China's Hebei Province, sat more than a dozen seniors, loudly reciting a poem titled "China has a city named Xiong'an."

The poem, authored by Chinese poet and calligrapher Lin Shuangchuan, begins by describing the changing scenery of Xiong'an through the four seasons of the year.

In loose translation, it depicts the spring when patches of green reeds grow and decorate the lakes, the summer when lotus flowers bloom in the sun and fishermen sing in the evenings, the autumn when fruits ripen and the earth becomes golden, and the winter when silvery snow dominates the landscape in this northern land.

The elderly people, mostly in their 60s and 70s, chanted the verses about Xiong'an, which brands itself as a city built by and for the people.


Hou Dongqi, 71, led the recitation at the Nanwen Community Elders Service Center, a hive of activity where seniors living nearby can easily meet up and pursue a range of interests, including physical exercise, ping-pong, 8-ball games, poker, mahjong, paper-cutting, calligraphy and singing.

As an active member of the center, Hou has a group of avid followers of poem recitation, a routine activity held here from 9:30 to 10:30 every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

"It's boring to stay at home too much of the time," said Hou. "I feel I can and should do something good for the new community. I'm willing to lead the recitation and choir group, and offer guidance. People adore me. The eldest person in this group today is 88."

Hou retired 10 years ago from a teaching career at the Xili Village Primary School in Dahe Township, Rongcheng County, now part of the Xiong'an New Area about 100 km southwest of the Chinese capital Beijing. This energetic man used to teach music and Chinese at the school.

"In the past, I taught little children. Now, I teach old students," said Hou, clearly proud of his life-long role as teacher.

During the recitation of the poem about Xiong'an, he meticulously provided suggestions to the class on pronunciation, intonation, emotion and rhythm. He said the poem tells the story of the city.

"Teacher Hou is both friendly and helpful. He masters the class easily," said 78-year-old resident Li Sumiao, who joined the recitation after a half-hour exercise session with more than 30 others in the lobby on the ground floor.

Li said she never imagined that a modern center like this, providing both fun and educational activities, would be built in a place where corn and wheat crops used to grow. "The environment in and around the new community in Xiong'an is superb. I feel happy and fulfilled," she said.

Hou and Li, as well as the seniors at the center, are residents relocated from their old villages to new urban communities in Xiong'an. China announced the decision to establish Xiong'an New Area on April 1, 2017, with the aim of developing the area into a modern city that is green, intelligent, livable and competitive by 2035.

As compensation for the old homes and land claimed for building the city, farmers are eligible for homes in newly built urban communities, while those aged 60 and above can receive a monthly pension, Li and her fellows revealed.

Data from the Administrative Committee of the Xiong'an New Area shows that, as of July this year, nearly 120,000 residents have resettled in new homes, while resettlement work continues across the three major settlement areas in Xiong'an, namely Rongdong, Rongxi and Xiongdong.

Wang Xuechun, who works at the center, said that, apart from entertainment activities, the volunteers offer seniors regular free medical checks and haircuts, while workshops on healthcare, home fire prevention and telecom fraud are organized from time to time.

Yuan Zheng, the center's operations manager, said his company, with subsidies from the government, is exploring new revenue streams by offering services such as assisted showers, mobility and dining for infirm elderly people. The firm's smart elderly care system also aims to tap into the growing elderly market to provide home-based elderly care services through technologies such as the Internet of Things, cloud computing, big data and smart devices.


Just 400 meters from the service center, along Wenying Road, sits the Nanwenying Community Cafeteria. At lunchtime, the cafeteria is thronged with customers, many of them elderly.

"I come here for breakfast, lunch and supper every day because cooking has become increasingly challenging due to my age. The food here is both tasty and affordable," said 84-year-old Du Xiaoxian, a resident in the Nanwenying Community. She now lives alone in a 50-square-meter apartment after relocation from her old home in Donglijiaying Village, Rongcheng County.

Du said her husband died a few years ago, and although some of her children have invited her to move in with them, she prefers to live alone, as she is still capable of looking after herself and the cafeteria is nearby. On this particular day, her lunch consisted of a whole braised fish and a bowl of porridge.

Zhang Yizhi, the cafeteria manager, told Xinhua that the cafeteria began operations on Feb. 1, 2023, and the opening hours are from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. each day. "The cafeteria is favored by residents, especially the elderly ones. At lunchtime, we often get long queues that extend beyond the entrance," said 31-year-old Zhang, who came to Xiong'an from his hometown in Jiangsu Province, east China, two years ago in search of business opportunities.

Zhang said that, on average, an elderly person only needs to spend about three yuan (less than half a U.S. dollar) for a meal. "For seniors aged from 60 to 70, our meals are 25 percent off. For those aged from 71 to 80, our meals are 50 percent off, and for those aged 81 and above, the discount is 75 percent off," he said. "Local residents or not, our policy is the same. The seniors can bring their ID cards here and register with us through face-recognition technologies. When they pay, the discount is instantly applied."

Zhang said the cafeteria also has specialty food counters and offers meal-delivery services for other customer groups. "I set up my business here because my family is here, and Xiong'an offers good opportunities for eateries because there are hundreds of thousands of construction workers building the new city and the number of relocated residents is huge."

At the restaurant, Zhang employs 16 workers, most of them locals. Zhang Suqin, 58 years old, is the cleaning lady at the cafeteria, earning 3,300 yuan (about 460 U.S. dollars) per month. "My job here is just a few minutes away from my new home. It's convenient for me," she said.

The Nanwenying Community, which hosts more than 7,700 residents, including approximately 5,000 relocated residents, has been trying to connect relocated residents with employers providing jobs such as janitors, security guards and cashiers. As of September this year, the community has helped more than 200 residents find new jobs, according to data from the community's service center.


On the morning of Sept. 20, a sunny Wednesday, 65-year-old Yang Shuangqiao took the No. 306 bus from the Rongdong settlement area to the old Rongcheng County.

"I like taking the bus to get around the city and visit the parks. The bus is free for seniors, and my destination today is Rongcheng County where I intend to do some shopping," said Yang, producing a travel card allowing free bus rides, which is issued to citizens aged 60 and above.

The electronic travel cards commonly used in Beijing, with functions loaded on smartphones or wearable devices, can also be used seamlessly with the swipe machines on Xiong'an buses. Such convenience illustrates China's detailed efforts to promote coordinated development in the northern Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region.

During the trip, the bus passed by modern hotels, stylish business centers, shops and restaurants adorned with plenty of green trees lining up both sides of the roads, which provided a pleasing visual experience.

On the same day, Hou Dongqi also took a bus in the afternoon, traveling about five kilometers from his home to the Xinhe Community, where an opera club comprised of relocated residents was practicing Hebei Bangzi in an opera house.

Hou, a flute player in the club, introduced other club members. Liu Shuncheng, Hou's friend since childhood, said the club is comprised of elderly players who have known each other for many years, having come from two neighboring villages before resettling in the new city.

Hebei Bangzi, a national-level form of intangible cultural heritage, is a genre of Chinese opera from Hebei Province. It can also be found in the nearby cities of Beijing and Tianjin. Hebei Bangzi, which is derived from Qinqiang and Shanxi Bangzi operas, has a history of nearly 200 years. There are more than 500 stories used in Hebei Bangzi.

"We used to gather together regularly in our old villages and perform Bangzi. After relocation to the new city, we managed to maintain this habit, purely out of our passion for Bangzi. It's a valuable cultural tradition for us," said 73-year-old Liu.

Liu said that he and Hou were classmates at primary school. Decades later, as fate would have it, they resettled in the same apartment block and remained neighbors. "The brotherhood with Hou is destined to last for life," said Liu with a hearty laugh.

Liu Laorui, another club member, said that life in Xiong'an is not much different from life in other big cities. "The only difference may be that our skin tone is a bit darker, but this is because we used to do quite a lot of farming work in the past," he bantered.

Members of the opera club listen to the radio to guide their practice, while some follow Douyin (the Chinese version of TikTok) videos, said Liu Laorui. However, he said they hope to learn from professionals in person in the future if such an opportunity arises. 

(Web editor: Liang Jun)


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