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Today's young people are reshaping traditional society, where knowledge was imparted by the old to the young, by helping the elderly enrich their lives with online technology, Xu Lin reports.
It took Zhang Zhijun and her husband a while to master the key functions of the instant-messaging app WeChat, following detailed photo instructions put together by their daughter.
They enjoy audio or video chatting with their relatives and friends who are at home and abroad via the popular Chinese social-media site. It's like opening a new door of the internet era for them.
"It's never too late to learn. The world is changing rapidly. If we don't study new things, we will be sifted out by the era in a few years," says Zhang, a retired 64-year-old middle school teacher.
Zhang and her husband are living with their daughter in Beijing so they can take care of their 6-year-old grandson in the daytime. At night, she has free time to enjoy solitude with her smartphone.
She's in some WeChat groups with her relatives and friends, so they can speak their minds freely and share news.
"Technology has reduced our distance in the real world. It's good to interact with them online. Even if we don't chat that often, I know about their recent news via their friend circles," she says.
"I'm very willing to know about new things. I can search on the internet for whatever I want to know about. It's also important to tell the true from the false, rather than believe everything online." As it's not easy to do that on the internet, Zhang keeps a critical mind and reads from multiple sources.
She's interested in Chinese history, health and cooking. She's already a good cook but likes to learn how to prepare new dishes, such as those from southern China.
Like Zhang, a growing number of older Chinese are trying to keep up with the new era and lead more colorful lives, mostly with help of their children, who are more comfortable with new technology.
A recent report by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and Tencent shows that the elderly use social networking to strengthen ties and communicate with relatives and friends. The report was based on a survey of about 3,000 families from 10 Chinese cities.
More than 60 percent of those who didn't live in the same city with their children said they were interacting more with their children after they learned to use social networks. Those who used both the internet and social networks have a higher life satisfaction.
Deng Xiquan, director of the China Youth and Children Research Center's Youth Research Institute, says that older people handed down knowledge to their children in the days when society was mostly agricultural.
In the information age, however, their roles have reversed.
"While the elderly's authoritative position has been weakened, young people's abilities to gather information and learn new knowledge have improved. These two factors make Chinese family members more equal and change the family structure," he says.
Many young people are eager to teach the elderly to help them integrate into the changing society, making relations between generations more harmonious.
"The older generations have their advantages, such as rich life experience. They want to learn how to use the internet but may not have proper means and their learning ability decreases after retirement. It's better that the younger generation takes the initiative to teach them," Deng says.
"If the elderly feel they've adapted to society, they will feel younger and have a more positive outlook. They shouldn't be embarrassed to ask their children if they have some problems in learning new things."
As China has evolved into an aging society, he adds, the young should consider it their responsibility to take care of the elderly, who need more psychological care than financial support.
"Children should be patient to teach parents how to use apps. It makes their lives more convenient and colorful, and they don't have to seek help from others in some situations," says Zhang's 36-year-old daughter, Yang Yanyan.
Yang's husband helps their parents download apps and solve technical problems with their mobiles.
They also have taken their parents on excursions, such as an outbound cruise, to broaden their horizons.
Never too old to learn
Yang Xiutang, 63, bought his first personal computer and got the internet at home in 2002. He browses news, reads novels, shops and plays Chinese chess online.
"I can't imagine my life without the internet. It's just like being without electricity in the past; you don't want to go back to the times when you have to use kerosene lamps," says Yang Xiutang, a retired middle school teacher from Suqian city, Jiangsu province.
Several decades ago, Chinese mainly communicated with each other by writing letters and sent emergency messages by telegraph. In the mid-1990s, beepers were the chic gadgets, and then came mobile phones.
Whenever new technology develops, he is eager to be first to try it.
He says his generation went through the "cultural revolution" (1966-76). They've been through hardships and want to make the world better. Many may not have received much education at school, but they've learned a lot by other ways and also want to learn about new things in the era.
He and several peers established an association to promote traditional filial piety in his local neighborhood, calling for more care for elderly empty nesters.
He also set up a related website, and generates a bulletin, both in print and e-paper, for the group.
"It's vital to maintain your curiosity toward the world, no matter how old you are. Also, it's good to exercise one's brains at this age," Yang Xiutang says.
Zhang Honglin, from Qianjiang, Hubei province, says learning from her daughter is good.
The 45-year-old uses her mobile to chat with others, speculate on the stock market, buy train tickets and deposit life expenses for her daughter.
She feels a sense of accomplishment when others praise her for knowing so much, and it encourages her to learn more.
"Young people know more about the new technology, such as smartphones and computer software, but I know more about life and the rules of conduct. We learn from each other," she says.
She says her 70-year-old mother doesn't know how to use an ATM and is embarrassed to deposit money at a counter.
"I want to teach her but she refuses. She wants to learn, but she's afraid that she can't. It's not about your age. You have to follow the steps of the new era. Even slowly, you're still making progress," she says.
Her daughter, Ruan Mengni, is a university senior. "I like my mom to know about the trends and keep up. Our mutual interests are increasing, too," says the 21-year-old.
"Parents have to first be themselves and have their own lives, rather than only focusing on taking care of their children."(News from chinadaily)