by Xinhua writer Yao Yulin
HEFEI, Jan. 7 (Xinhua) -- Carrying his single-lens reflex camera, tripod, and light blocker, Yang Dezhou, 71, is ready to capture the dancing aunties with their flying silk scarves against the blue sky in east China's Anhui Province.
Yang is among the growing army of silver-haired photography enthusiasts in China. In 2015, the retiree decided to revive his teenage dream to be a photographer.
According to data released by Chinese Internet giant Alibaba in October 2018, one in 20 senior citizens on its shopping platforms owns a selfie stick. The elder photographers spent 4,300 yuan (about 630 U.S. dollars) per person on cameras in 2017, up 42 percent from the previous year.
"Photography helps me freeze the moments and strengthen my physical fitness. It's also a sort of social activity when I go out with my friends to take pictures," said Yang, adding that the hobby was an excellent way to spend his retirement.
Depending on his pension, Yang has spent almost 60,000 yuan (8,770 U.S. dollars) on his two cameras and three lens, let alone the costly online courses to teach him about photo editing and photography books.
Yang admits that photography has dug him into a bottomless hole, but he says it is worth the price.
"I made lots of friends with the same interest through the photography classes and social media platforms, " Yang said, adding that they often go out to take pictures all day long. "We just enjoy it."
Yang joined three QQ groups and four Wechat groups of the photography classes in the community college for the elderly. There are more than 400 people in a group at most, said Yang.
NEVER TOO LATE TO LEARN
Wang Yu, 65, was among those who joined in on the photography craze. Every Wednesday, she takes a photo editing class in a nearby community college in Hefei.
"When your picture gets into Photoshop, you first have to press CTRL+J to copy the layer. Remember, J, like the Jack in poker," Wang's teacher said when showing everyone how to edit the pictures on a computer.
Wang always sits in the front, carefully following the teacher with her notebook full of the important points. "Elderly people just like me have a poor memory, and we learn new technologies slowly. But we work hard until we learn it," Wang said.
As Chinese people's living standards improve and senior citizens' consumption increases, photography classes in universities for the elderly and community colleges have grown nationwide in recent years.
China's first university for the elderly in east China's Shandong Province attracted over 10,000 senior citizens last spring. Photography was among the top three choices of the applicants.
Currently, Anhui university for the elderly has set up four photography classes, each with 45 students. Its students range from over 50 years old to more than 80 years old, with an average age of 65.
Retired public servants, enterprise employees, and teachers are the most active in the photography classes in the universities, while the students of community college photography classes are less literate, mainly graduates from middle schools, according to the Anhui university for the elderly.
CLICK AND SMILE
China had more than 241 million people aged 60 or above at the end of 2017, accounting for 17.3 percent of the total population at the time, according to official statistics.
It is estimated that the country's elderly will occupy about one-quarter of the population by 2030.
But the shutterbugs are showing their overwhelming enthusiasm in embracing their youthful life: carrying the heavy equipment on their trips to take pictures and staying up late to process their work.
"Many senior citizens changed a lot after they took photography as their hobby. They told me that they found the way to realize their value of life," said Luo Shirong, a salesperson in a photography equipment store in Hefei, capital of Anhui Province.
In recent years, Luo saw more and more elderly people buy equipment, accounting for nearly 60 percent of the store's sales.
Senior citizens in Shenzhen, south China's Guangdong Province, were the most active clients of online camera shops, according to Alibaba.
"Many older people followed their offsprings to move to a new city, leaving their old friends and neighbors behind. Loneliness became one of their biggest challenges," said Zhang Zhixian, 72, president of the Shenzhen photographic society for the elderly.
"But photography helps them share a common language with others," Zhang said.
Founded in 2006, Zhang's photography association now has more than 1,400 members. Every month, the members will take pictures of the local senior citizens for free.
"We find joy in photography, and pass it on to others," Zhang said.