Pur­sue a mean­ing­ful life, not just longevity

China Daily European Weekly - - Comment - Jour­ney to the West, The au­thor is a colum­nist for South­ern Me­trop­o­lis Daily. The views do not nec­es­sar­ily re­flect those of China Daily.

The quest to live longer can be­come a mind­less craze for some, as the rush to famed Bama county clearly demon­strates

and waste, but also to all sorts of so­cial and com­mer­cial odd­i­ties.

Bama county in the Guangxi Zhuang au­tonomous re­gion is a case in point. Tens of thou­sands of peo­ple, many of them suf­fer­ing from cancer, or chronic dis­eases such as di­a­betes or hyper­ten­sion, visit Bama, the “longevity county”, in the hope of cur­ing their dis­eases. They be­lieve the fresh air, and lo­cal food and wa­ter in Bama, act like mir­a­cle medicines and are the rea­sons for lo­cal res­i­dents’ un­usual longevity.

Many con­tests have been or­ga­nized — per­haps in­spired by the Ja­panese — to elect the “home­town of longevity” in China. One can un­der­stand that such or­ga­niz­ers want to use “sci­en­tific” meth­ods to reach a con­clu­sion on the so-called law of longevity, so as to ben­e­fit more peo­ple. I’ve been in­vited as a mem­ber of the jury to judge a cou­ple of such con­tests. How­ever, be­cause as­sum­ing there is a law of longevity would be sheer folly, I have po­litely re­fused the in­vi­ta­tions.

Re­gret­fully, many peo­ple see Bama as a “longevity county”. The county’s over-com­mer­cial­iza­tion has let loose the mon­ster that is mind­less craze. As a re­sult, some sim­ple nat­u­ral re­sources from Bama have be­come “sa­cred ar­ti­cles” car­ry­ing the magic code of longevity.

Some busi­ness­peo­ple, re­al­iz­ing that peo­ple’s craze can eas­ily be trans­lated into prof­its, have turned Bama into a lu­cra­tive busi­ness. There are guides to take the “de­vout pil­grims” to Bama to squan­der their money in the hope that ev­ery penny they spend will add to their life. His­tory shows that peo­ple have lost all their riches — and some kings their king­doms — in the quest for longevity, if not im­mor­tal­ity.

Even in the clas­sic there are mon­sters who want just a bite of the monk’s flesh in the be­lief that it will make them im­mor­tal.

The pur­suit of longevity is not new to Chi­nese cul­ture. More than 400 mil­lion peo­ple in China — or about 25 per­cent of the to­tal pop­u­la­tion — will be 60 or older in less than 20 years. Per­haps oc­ca­sional re­ports on “sci­en­tific” re­search sug­gest­ing peo­ple’s life­span can in­crease to 100 years have reignited the pur­suit of longevity among Chi­nese. And Bama has be­come the means to the suc­cess of that pur­suit.

Dif­fer­ent cen­te­nar­i­ans have dif­fer­ent rea­sons for their longevity. Some live in rel­a­tively clean en­vi­ron­ments, oth­ers have beaten the odds even in pol­luted cities. Some are veg­e­tar­i­ans, oth­ers swear by meat and fish. Some fol­low a healthy life­style, while oth­ers are heavy smok­ers and drinkers.

Most of the cen­te­nar­i­ans in Bama have led a fru­gal life be­cause it used to be a poor county un­touched by mod­ern devel­op­ment till a few years ago. No one knows the se­cret of longevity of the cen­te­nar­i­ans in Bama or those in other places. But we know that a long life could be te­dious, mean­ing­less and of no use to so­ci­ety — and a short one could be highly mean­ing­ful and ben­e­fi­cial to a so­ci­ety, a coun­try, even the world.

A per­son’s pur­suit should be to lead a mean­ing­ful life.

ZHAI HAIJUN / FOR CHINA DAILY

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