China’s grandparents are done babysitting and ready to go viral

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HONG KONG — The 65-year-old woman crouches in a field and holds up a head of cabbage. Behind her, two friends sway back and forth, cucumber and radish in their hands. “This rotten cabbage, let’s pull it out, eat it, achieve some foodie freedom,” Guo Yifen, the woman with the cabbage, raps in a low and creaky voice in the song “Spicy Hot Pot Real Rap.”

The trio, known as Sister Wang Is Coming, is known for sharing playful videos on Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok. Guo and her musical partners, Wang Shuping, 64, and Wang Xiurong, 66, have more than half a million followers who watch their food-related music videos, featuring jams like “Fried Mushrooms” and “Country Food Rap.”

The group is part of a growing number of older Chinese who have found viral success sharing their daily lives online. In this corner of the Chinese internet, octogenarians croon, septuagenarians tango and gray-haired fashionistas strut down catwalks and offer makeup tips to millions of fans. There’s even an 86-year-old man who just sits and plays video games like Call of Duty.

With more than 260 million residents older than 60, China has the largest, and fastest-growing, population of old people in the world. Nearly half are online, where some choose to live out their professional dreams, while others are simply having a little fun. Many find companionship through their fans, an antidote to an otherwise lonely life. They are among a new generation of Chinese retirees who have fewer grandchildren than those before and the financial freedom to pursue hobbies and share their experiences online.

The singers, dancers and accidental celebrities are part of a global community of seniors who have embraced the highs, and sometimes lows, of social media.

In China, influencers are helping to challenge a particularly entrenched stereotype that grandparents are expected to stay home or help care for their families by cleaning, cooking and looking after their grandchildren while their adult children work. For some retirees, grandchildren aren’t a factor at all, with more young Chinese rejecting marriage or choosing not to start a family.

“We look at our parents’ old age and we think, we have to live in a different way,” said Sun Yang, 66. A former English teacher who retired more than a decade ago, Sun and three of her friends are fashion influencers who go by the name Glamma Beijing. In their videos, they model vintage and modern clothes and weave style tips with everyday advice on life.

“What we do now is something we could only dream of when we were young,” she said. Many of Glamma Beijing’s more than 2 million followers are in their 50s and 60s. But there are younger ones, too, who ask the women about school and dating. Some say the tutorials helped them get over their fear of aging, Sun said.

The Glamma Beijing stars will occasionally feature family in their videos. Sun’s daughter-in-law manages the social media account, and her 6-year-old granddaughter often helps film. But mostly, the four women talk about traveling, hiking and attending rehearsals for fashion shows.

Independence is a common theme among many of the influencers’ videos, as they push back against the thought that seniors should stay home in retirement and help raise the next generation.

In the music videos by Sister Wang Is Coming, Guo and her friends run around in fields, playing pranks on one another, or lie in the grass and daydream. They rap about their love of cooking and eating. It’s a world away from the daily routines they once had as mothers and wives with children to raise and husbands to feed.

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