Yang and Jin together for 90 years

China's oldest couple at 106 and 109

Yang Shengzhong, 109, and his wife Jin Jifen, 106, are believed to be the oldest living couple in China, Dec 6, 2011. [Photo/Xinhua]

As I have said before, the sheer size of the Chinese population produces numbers that when compared against the same events in our culture are very difficult to comprehend.  Here are a couple of numbers from China in today’s news, 235 million people taking the train and 650 million people planting 2.6 billion trees a year for the next decade – two trees for every Chinese citizen – 26 billion trees is the goal.  The tree planters are said to be volunteers and over 600 million people have already planted more than two billion trees this year. The article in the Chinese People’s Daily also the said half of the populaton would be mobilized for the project – mobilized does not sound like volunteering to me.

However, the number the caught my attention today was much smaller – 90; a couple in China has been married for 90 years and are thought to be the oldest couple in China – 106 and 109 years old.  Ninety may not be a very large number, but when applied to marriage it is a significant as 26 billion trees; it makes one wonder how that is possible? The husband says “she has always been very nice to me my whole life and still cooks for me.”  She responds, as she is preparing a meal, “I can’t live without working.”  My own experience at the marriage thing was of a different sort, we failed to make our 25th anniversary – actually we did, but by then we were living separately and waiting for the divorce to become final. Those two have been at it  three and half times as long and are seemingly not yet tired of each other.

Looking at Yang and Jin another 90 years looks possible, as they appear in the pictures they might be 70 years old and a healthy 70 at that.  I certainly could have used some advice from them when I was young and contemplating marriage – there are things about marriage that I never seemed to understand.  I know I am not typical or a very good metaphor for marriage, but still I do beleive a culture with a long history has some advantages over ours that prides itself in reinventing convention every generation.  As an example, another number from China in today’s news, the remains of a palace was recently discovered in China, the palace was built 3,600 years ago; China has a continuous 5000 year old history and that has produced some very old and cherished traditions.  China may not be as free as the United States for the average citizen, but it may not be as confusing either.  Sometimes time honored rules provide the kind of guidance that can help a person, or a couple, through a lifetime of a hundred years or longer – and that is not always a bad thing.

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