Unlike in the past, the Chinese are spoiled for choice when it comes to entertainment – Opinion

Local residents perform karaoke at a mini self-service KTV room in Shanghai. [Photo by Wang Gang/For China Daily]

Editor’s note: Four decades of reform and opening up have not only made China the world’s second largest economy, but have also changed the way of life for Chinese people. A veteran China Daily reporter writes about the changing sources of entertainment.

For people like us who grew up in the 1960s, toys were a luxury. We played with everything we could get our hands on, from cigarette box paper to candy wrappers, from little bits of animal bone to even our dirty shoes. And then there was the hide and seek. As a child, I fell asleep several times while “hiding”.

Children who had an iron jumping frog or a cloth doll were envied. Such toys were sold in stores, but for most parents who, despite working all day, could barely make ends meet, they were simply not affordable.

Poverty has turned children like us into toymakers. With tree branches, catapults were made; with wood, we made spinning tops; with bricks, we made dumbbells and weights for bodybuilding. We tied up discarded rubber gloves and turned them into long ropes for playing jump rope games. I actually learned table tennis with a paddle I made myself – an ordinary wooden bat with no sponge or rubber.

Adults at that time had virtually no sources of entertainment other than playing chess and cards. Jogging? No, it would burn too many calories that people back then didn’t get enough of because they couldn’t eat enough.

Life has changed dramatically over the past few decades for both old and young alike due to reform and opening up and the resulting rapid economic growth. Today, most city kids have at least half a dozen toys, from Barbie dolls to Transformers, bikes to roller skates, not to mention video games and apps.

Many parents send their children to after-school classes to learn piano, ballet, tennis, swimming, taekwondo, and even horseback riding.

Adults also have multiple choices for leisure and relaxation. While chess and cards remain popular among adults, many people today spend more money on entertainment and/or pay large sums to join gyms or clubs to exercise regularly and/or or play table tennis, tennis, badminton, football and/or basketball. everything to keep in shape.

In the evening, the majority of gyms are packed with young people working out and training to lose weight or build muscle.

Hiking and biking have also become popular among young people, and to meet their needs, city authorities have paved rubber-covered paths in parks and are building special routes for biking enthusiasts.

And marathons, once rare in China, have become a regular affair today. Nearly 2,000 marathon races were held each year in China before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, each attracting thousands of participants. And nearly 50 million Chinese have become regular joggers.

While young people and people with jobs can only seek hobbies, visit gyms or play sports after completing their daily chores, for millions of retirees, hobbies have become an important part of their lives. In the morning, many older people gather in parks or community squares to practice song and dance – from waltz and tango to yangge and Uyghur dance – which, by the way, is also a form of ‘exercise.

In some places, these songs and dances continue until very late at night. Local authorities encourage these activities, but ensure that the decibel level remains low, so that the noise does not disturb local residents.

Many villages also have basic gym facilities built with donations from charities. These free facilities are mainly used by retirees and the elderly. After getting the necessary exercise, the elderly can attend adult education schools to learn calligraphy, painting, classical poems, musical instruments and handicrafts.

And many seniors now own two of the most popular toys today: cameras and cars. They visit parks and hutongs (alleys) to take pictures to demonstrate their artistic talents and travel in their cars to distant destinations to meet their spiritual needs.

Rising individual incomes have changed Chinese people’s choice of entertainment, and entertainment has changed Chinese people’s way of life.

The author is the former deputy editor of China Daily.

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