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August 14, 2010

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Live long and prosper in Chongming

SCENIC Chongming Island, an eco-county, has 67 residents over 100 years of age and they attribute their long life to the clean environment, good food and family love. Victoria Fei reports.

To Lin Meilang, a Chongming County native born in 1910, being the oldest member of the family makes the centenarian feel as cherished as a national treasure. And indeed, she is a living history of China.

"Forty years of bitterness, 60 years of sweetness" is how her son Lu Yuanbin describes his mother's life.

Living with her son Lu in Hezhong Village on Chongming Island (County), Lin has filial children and leads a quiet and satisfactory life.

"Our family is famous because mom is 100 years old and her stories are a history of our nation," said Lu.

"Centenarians are not only symbols of the value of life and anchors of family traditions, but they also set samples for younger generations through their long lives and spirit."

The elderly lady experienced the most severe days of the old society.

"Before liberation, landowners controlled all our lands. Most of the wheat we grew was paid as land rent and we could hardly make ends meet," Lin had told her son.

She said her darkest days were in 1945 and 1948 when her husband and eldest son died from disease.

Lin was almost 40 years old in 1949. With the founding of the People's Republic of China that year, Lin started her new life with her younger son Lu, who was 16 years old, and Lu Meizhong, her 5-year-old daughter.

"Life remained hard, yet happiness budded. Land reform enabled us to farm 0.27 hectare. With no more exploitation, I was too happy for words," she said.

"Nowadays all my children are middle aged and have their own children. I have much less to do now."

Lin compared her life to living in a "honey jar," where everything is sweet and her grandchildren working in downtown Shanghai often call to say how much they miss her.

"Old as she is, my mother is willing to share everything with everyone," said her son. "We just want her to be healthy and happy."

Not alone

Lin is not alone in Chongming, Shanghai's so-called eco-island with fresh air, clean water and countryside.

The county with a population of 690,000 by the end of 2009 has registered 67 people who are older than 100 years and plans to apply for the title of "Chinese Longevity County" as it has met the criteria.

In a longevity county, seven people out of every 100,000 should be more than 100 years old and more than 1.4 percent of population should be older than 80 years, according to the Gerontological Society of China.

Chongming's residents have an average life expectancy of 80.26 years, 8.26 years above the national average. By the end of 2009, 174,000 residents were at least 60 years old, representing 25 percent of the total; 4.2 percent are older than 80 years. Chongming qualifies.

"The sound ecological environment is the main reason Chongming people live long. People eat healthy food and live a harmonious life," said Shen Zhiqiang, deputy director of Chongming Civil Affairs Bureau.

"Lots of sunshine and low humidity are conducive to disease prevention and cultivate a good mood."

Chongming is like an oxygen bar. By the end of 2009, forest covered almost 21 percent of the area. Water is clean and the Qingcaosha Reservoir provides pure drinking water to more than 10 million people in Shanghai.

The fertile land provides abundant vegetables and fruit. Eating healthy is a way of life.

Gong Wanlang, 103, said her nutritious diet was the secret to her long life. She only ate vegetables grown on her own land, about half a hectare. Constant work in the fields gave her a strong body and good health. Even now, she keeps active doing some weeding in the garden and shelling peas.

Social policy

In addition to clean environment and healthy living, sound welfare policies contribute to longer life on the island.

Chongming is trying to make medical and daily care services available to more elderly residents. The government employes 1,900 people to provide home service for more than 8,000 people above 60 years of age who need assistance. The annual cost of home care is around 25 million yuan (US$3.69 million).

Chongming has 46 welfare institutions for seniors, providing 5,846 beds, and 305 standardized activity centers that enrich the lives of older people.

Since 2008, local centenarians have received a monthly nutrition subsidy of 300 yuan. They also receive an annual medical subsidy of 500 yuan and free physical exams.

Each centenarian receives a birthday card and gift of 1,000 yuan on their birthdays from the local government.


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