FOR OLD TIME’S SAKE

Bama county in the Guangxi Zhuang au­ton­o­mous re­gion en­joys an en­vi­able rep­u­ta­tion as the home of longevity

China Daily - - HOLIDAY | TRAVEL - By LI YANG liyang@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Although it has been ques­tioned whether the Ja­panese health or­ga­ni­za­tion that be­stowed on Bama the ti­tle of “The Home­town of Longevity” in 1991 ac­tu­ally had the le­git­i­macy to do so, there is no deny­ing the county in the Guangxi Zhuang au­ton­o­mous re­gion has a high pro­por­tion of cen­te­nar­i­ans.

With 300,000 res­i­dents in to­tal, the county has around 100 cen­te­nar­i­ans, nearly five times the United Na­tion’s stan­dard for a place of longevity, which is 7.5 per 100,000.

More im­por­tant, the pop­u­la­tion in Bama over the age of 90 has been ris­ing steadily, since the longevity of its res­i­dents first caught the at­ten­tion of do­mes­tic re­searchers in the 1960s. Ac­cord­ing to the county govern­ment, by the end of last year, Bama had nearly 800 peo­ple over 90 years old.

Many or­ga­ni­za­tions from home and abroad have con­ducted field re­searches in Bama since the 1990s, con­clud­ing the air is rich in neg­a­tive oxy­gen ions, the soil and water con­tain healthy mi­croele­ments and there is a strong ge­o­mag­netic field, all of which are good for health.

These in­her­ent char­ac­ter­is­tics have turned Bama into a mag­net for vis­it­ing se­nior cit­i­zens across the coun­try. They flock to the county hop­ing to cure their high blood pres­sure, di­a­betes and asthma. There are even some with can­cer for whom the mag­i­cal pow­ers of Bama are a last ray of hope.

The govern­ment counts these peo­ple, whom the lo­cals ad­dress as “mi­gra­tory bird peo­ple”, as trav­el­ers although they usu­ally live in Bama for months, even years. It is es­ti­mated more than 100,000 of these “mi­gra­tory birds” live in the houses of lo­cal farm­ers or the houses they helped the lo­cal farm­ers build.

In the morn­ing and evening, hun­dreds of peo­ple dance and do ex­er­cises in front of Baimo Cave, a tourist spot that is be­lieved to have the best air qual­ity. Be­sides the cave is a deep val­ley through which the Panyang River flows where peo­ple line up to drink the water, which they be­lieve to be the elixir of longevity.

Ten years ago, Bama re­ceived about 260,000 vis­i­tors. Last year, the num­ber soared to about 5 mil­lion, and they ac­counted for more than half of the county’s econ­omy.

Con­crete build­ings dot the moun­tains. Al­most all the fam­i­lies in the vil­lages along the Panyang River, the core longevity re­gion, man­age home­s­tays, ea­ter­ies or spe­cialty shops, sell­ing lo­cal ce­re­als, beans, corn and bar­be­cued pork.

Some vil­lagers, who had gone to work in neigh­bor­ing Guang­dong prov­ince, have re­turned to cater to the needs of tourists.

“The in­flow of the trav­el­ers has changed the lo­cals’ life­style which had not changed for hun­dreds of years,” says Liang Shaoen, a lo­cal civil ser­vant.

Few young peo­ple work the land any­more, since run­ning a small busi­ness cater­ing to tourists makes them more money than farm­ing.

How­ever, for most of Bama’s cen­te­nar­i­ans, most of whom are il­lit­er­ate and have never left home, farm­ing was their liveli­hood.

The cen­te­nar­i­ans have some­thing in com­mon that even the lo­cals to­day can’t share, said Zhang Yuan, a pho­tog­ra­pher who has shot pho­tos of 120 cen­te­nar­i­ans in Bama over the years.

“Aside from their sim­ple lives, they in­vari­ably have sim­ple minds. For most of their lives, they have lived a hand-to-mouth, but self-suf­fi­cient life. They en­joy singing folk songs, and have no de­sire for money and the other ma­te­rial com­forts,” Zhang said.

“It is a men­tal­ity that is hard to de­velop in the mod­ern world,” he added.

Some cen­te­nar­i­ans sit in the halls of the home­s­tays or shops their off­spring op­er­ate, act­ing as a form of ad­ver­tis­ing and rev­enue, vis­i­tors are ex­pected to give them red en­velopes con­tain­ing cash when tak­ing a photo with them and seek­ing their bless­ings.

How­ever, not all at­tribute the longevity of Bama’s res­i­dents to the ex­ter­nal con­di­tions, there are some who think it is in the lo­cal peo­ple’s genes. Sun Liang, a ge­netic re­searcher at the Na­tional Geron­tol­ogy Cen­ter, said that among the fac­tors con­tribut­ing to long life, genes con­tribute about 20 to 30 per­cent, and the liv­ing habits and med­i­cal care con­di­tions ac­count for 70 to 80 per­cent.

“How many years peo­ple can live af­ter they reach 90 is mostly de­cided by their genes. Bama’s longevity is in the first place de­ter­mined by lo­cal peo­ple’s genes,” said Sun.

Stud­ies by Yang Ze, deputy di­rec­tor of the Bei­jing Geron­tol­ogy In­sti­tute, in­di­cates that Bama peo­ple came from the South­east Asia thou­sands of years ago, and the genes of Bama peo­ple are much purer than the mod­ern av­er­age.

“The dif­fi­cult trans­port con­di­tions made Bama an iso­lated is­land for genes. Ex­cept dur­ing the Ming Dy­nasty (1368-1644) when the genes of some new set­tlers from North China min­gled with the genes of the lo­cal peo­ple,” Yang said.

They en­joy singing folk songs, and have no de­sire for money and the other ma­te­rial com­forts. It is a men­tal­ity that is hard to de­velop in the mod­ern world.”

Zhang Yuan, a pho­tog­ra­pher who has shot pic­tures in Bama for years

LIANG SHAOEN / FOR CHINA DAILY

A view of the Panyang River in Bama in Septem­ber.

HE FUGAO / FOR CHINA DAILY

Huang Miegui and her hus­band Huang Juan­guang, and Huang Juan­hui and his wife Yang Miehou (from left to right) pose for the cam­era in front of their home in Bama last year. The two men are twins, 106 years old, and their wives are both 103 years old.

HUANG DAYOU / FOR CHINA DAILY

A pho­tog­ra­pher looks for a good lo­ca­tion to shoot pho­tos be­side the Panyang River in Bama one morn­ing in Oc­to­ber.

HUANG DAYOU / FOR CHINA DAILY

Vil­lagers of the Yao eth­nic group per­form a tra­di­tional bronze drum dance in the Zhuzhu Fes­ti­val cel­e­bra­tions in Dong­shan, Bama, in June.

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