China's aging explorers of the internet

Updated 2018-01-03 09:00:21 Xinhua

When most of his friends are working in the fields, 53-year-old Jiang Licun is living a life of the fame on the internet.

Putting on a headset, Jiang records a popular song on a singing app on his mobile phone and uploads it. Within a few minutes, the song has more than 20 comments and some listeners give him virtual flowers as encouragement.

"I like reading the comments, and I usually reply one by one," said Jiang, a rural resident in east China's Anhui Province.

The music sharing is Jiang's favorite rest and probably sums up the lives of many the vast ageing population in China. This demography is considered the "unconnected group" in the internet age, as many of them struggle with the devices and processes needed to gain access to the internet.

But that might no longer be the case. According to a report by the China Internet Network Information Center, by the end of June 2017, of China's 751 million online population, 24.7 percent were aged 40 or above.

For many, online music platforms such as Tencent's WeSing has created a new stage. On the platforms, they can find songs produced in the 1980s and 1990s, connect with other "singers" that share similar tastes, and even sing together with a complete stranger.

"I have uploaded 133 songs, and I have 442 followers on WeSing," Jiang said. "My daughter said that I use the app much better than she does."

By the end of 2016, more than 230 million Chinese were above the age of 60, according to the Ministry of Civil Affairs. The government predicts the country's elderly will account for about one quarter of the population by 2030.

In an era of information accessibility, many elderly people are beginning to explore the internet to enrich their lives, particularly the popular messaging app WeChat.

Among the elderly who use WeChat, 98.5 percent chat, but about 70 percent also make videos, 40 percent pay mobile phone bills, and 30 percent shop online, according to a report by Tencent and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Many also know how to make "Hongbao," red envelopes, on WeChat.

"I had a video chat with my grandson yesterday," said Pan Xuelan, 60. "He looked fatter than last time." Pan 's daughter bought a smart phone for her and taught her how to use WeChat.

"I chat with them every week on WeChat," she said. "The internet truly makes life easier."

Elderly WeChat users have even created a series of special emojis. The emojis have various big characters and extremely bright colors, and are usually filled with "positive energy," according to a report by Tencent.

These emojis, which carry very traditional messages, such as "Wish you every success!" and "Have a wonderful morning!" are considered out of date by many young people, but appeal to some due to their retro feel.

"For every holiday, my mom sends me such emojis," said Chen Xiaojie, a teacher in Beijing. "For example, for New Year's Day, she sent me an spinning emoji that carries the Chinese characters for Happy Holidays."

For the National Day holiday, she sent him an emoji contained the character "The Motherland" in shiny color, followed by two dancing characters "Long Live."

"Her emojis have always been direct and simple, but also filled with best wishes," Chen said.

Chen added that many elderly love the idea of sharing articles about health and traditional Chinese medicine, and "Chicken soup for the soul" on the Moments of WeChat.

But as many elderly become more interested in the internet, their children have expressed concern.

"My father is addicted to surfing the internet these days," said Jiang Licun's daughter. "His eyesight is not every good, and I worry that replying messages on the singing platform will be bad for his health."

Zhao Jie, a professor with Anhui University, said that the need for emotional communication and for socializing has prompted many elderly to explore the internet.

"Their children should spend more time with them, and encourage them to go out rather than staying at home," Zhao said. "Their lives will become more abundant with more companionship, and they will rely less on the internet."

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