The Sunday Mail
CHINESE people are masters when it comes to preserving their culture. In my ten-month stay in China where I travelled to at least ten provinces, I noted with admiration how the senior citizens of the Asian giant continue to contribute to economic development as custodians of culture.
Their active involvement mainly in the tourism sector among other facets of the economy run counter to the norm that senior citizens are relegated to the peripheral rural areas where they live the rest of their lives awaiting death.
Much of China’s rural areas have become tourism hotspots where you find centres of cultural artefacts, handiwork and traditional performances.
Their rural areas have been branded with monetised ventures where beyond formal employment, senior citizens continue to earn income through cultural activities.
Many people upon reaching retirement age in Africa find themselves retracing their steps to rural areas with no deliberate systems supported by Governments through which they can continue to feed into national development.
There is nothing happening besides patches of subsistence farming here and there in the rural areas as they wait for their inevitable demise on earth.
There are no plans laid out to preserve their cultural and historical experiences in a way that benefits them financially as well as their economies.
Yet in China the elderly are custodians and the repository of rich cultures which if not preserved can go extinct with the passage of time.
In rural areas you find experts in story-telling or your typical “griots” where students at any level can learn about their nation.
China’s rural areas are enriched with tourism structures which house senior citizens involved in arts and crafts.
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The handiwork as well
as cultural performances become the major tourist attractions in these rural areas.
Upon visits to provinces like Hainan, Hubei and Guangdong I had first-hand experiences on how the elderly still contribute to the development of China.
In villages in south China’s Hainan Province, the elderly are part of the cultural kaleidoscope which includes traditional displays, art and handiwork such as weaving and molding.
The village projects are designed to keep them active and packaged to mesmerize tourists. In central China’s Hubei Province, elderly people take part in productive agricultural activities.
There is no better way to preserve the riches of culture, arts and craft but by ensuring those who have lived through the experiences are engaged in it. Zimbabwe has centres like Tengenenge known solely for sculptor but the ideas have not been established in rural areas away from other popular tourist attractions.
Borrowing from the Chinese model, a traditional dance centre which showcases the history and importance of these dances in rural areas can turn some of our rural areas into tourist attractions that can generate revenue for the local communities.
Add story and history telling to it, you have an exciting package which anyone can be eager to learn from.
The Chinese people use translators when communicating with foreigners and nothing can stop Zimbabwe doing the same when such initiatives are put in place.
Zimbabwe can learn from such ventures to develop rural hot-spots for handiwork, arts and crafts. Such initiatives also take deliberate efforts from governments and corporates to ensure cultural heritage is preserved and the custodians of it also continue to benefit.
For China, it’s a deliberate action and is best summarized by a quote in Chinese President Xi Jinping’s book titled Xi Jinping: The Governance of China (II) which stresses the contribution of its people no matter how old or young.
It states, “When the people are firm in their convictions, the country will prosper and the nation will grow stronger.”
Their conviction is that senior citizens still have a role to play even when they retire from formal employment. As custodians of culture, villages and cities are designed in a manner to make use of their life experiences and keep them actively involved.
It’s one lesson that our African societies have to adapt. Age is no reason to relegate one to a place of uselessness and rural areas are not places to go and die. Rural areas hold the essence of cultural richness of a people.