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Last Updated: Sunday, 10 April, 2005, 00:10 GMT 01:10 UK
China's break-dancing grandmother
By Agnes Teek
BBC News, Beijing

Break-dancing keeps Jin and her friends fit and healthy
Jin is 68, and a grandmother, but she does not look or behave like one.

She is fashionable and well-groomed, enjoys spending her money on clothes and make-up, and is a picture of health and vitality.

And every Monday morning, Jin and a group of her friends meet in a park in Beijing to practise their favourite activity - break-dancing. Her friends call her "Auntie Cool".

She is the kind of role model Chinese authorities were trying to find when they put on the first national beauty contest for the elderly.

Grey strain

The Silver-Aged Beauty Contest is part of a Chinese drive to deal with the issues facing a rapidly aging population.

The UN predicts that by 2030, China will have 236m over-65s - and that by 2050, senior citizens will make up a quarter of the entire population.

These changing demographics are largely a result of China's strict one-child policy and are already placing a strain on the working population.

Keeping an active, healthy and spiritually satisfied older population means better prospects for the country and economy
A growing number of single young people find themselves faced with the daunting prospect of caring for both their parents and grandparents - a phenomenon known as the 4-2-1 family.

Without further action being taken, experts say the burden of caring for a greying population could begin to have a major impact on the speed of China's development.

In her youth, Jin would have been persecuted and ostracised for wearing colourful clothes and pursuing cultural interests from the West - including break-dancing to hip-hop music.

Expressing individuality, or having outspoken political views which were not in line with the philosophy of the Party often met with punishment or even imprisonment.

Jin's ex-husband was persecuted for his political views in 1957. He was taken away from home to be re-educated through hard labour.

Jin says she had no idea what her husband did wrong but that in those days it was better not to ask questions.

When her husband did eventually return, it wasn't long before he died of cancer.

But now Jin and her friends are enjoying a comfortable retirement. Jin re-married four years ago to Guo, a retired general in the Chinese military, and they live together in Beijing.

Traditionally, older people in China live with their children who take care of them, but today over 23% of the elderly live alone.

Despite suffering from diabetes, Jin is at the forefront of a new cultural revolution in China that has been sweeping through her generation in recent years.

A retired factory worker, she has forged a new career in her golden years as a dance teacher and elderly fashion model.

Tough competition

"If elderly Chinese do their bit to look good, it will help our country to be civilised and developed," she said.

"Keeping an active, healthy and spiritually satisfied older population means better prospects for the country and economy."

But the competition is tough.

The Silver-Aged Beauty Contest has captured the imagination of elderly citizens across the country. Six thousand older Chinese have battled through regional contests to win the honour of travelling to the capital for the final - some contestants travelling from as far as Inner Mongolia.

But Jin is in winning form, taking home the title of Image Ambassador for the Chinese Elderly and the Most Trendy award.

"I think you can say that I am trendy. That's why so many young people call me 'Auntie Cool'," says Jin.

Beijing Beauties was broadcast on BBC Two at 1455 BST on Monday 11 April, 2005.

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