Active Ageing in China: Wanshou Park

As China’s ageing population continues to swell, Shanghai-based Australian architect Grant Donald looks at the contrast between China’s and Australia’s attitudes to aged care. He spoke to Sophie Loras.
Having worked and lived in China for more than 20 years, Grant Donald ceases to be surprised by what he has learnt from the Middle Kingdom’s 5000-year old culture and history.
Originally from Sydney, Mr Donald is the Partner and Design Director for Shanghai-based architecture firm, Silk Tree International. STI is currently working on Phase 1 for the redevelopment of a park in central Beijing into a giant outdoor aged-care facility – Wanshou Park.silk_tree_6.9
*Pictured left: Wanshou’s Central Park pavilions and weather monitoring station.
Mr Donald says working on the project has been an eye-opener in the vastly different attitudes between Australia and China in managing ageing populations.
“Expats come to China with ideas of stand alone, beautiful aged-care facilities, but they are out there, beyond the cities and hidden away,” says Mr Donald.
He says Chinese people can’t, and don’t, rely on institutions to look after their elderly.
“Firstly, it’s not in their culture and secondly, it is not financially viable,” he says.
“You add to China, that there is a cultural aspect to embrace the aged instead of pushing them away.”
The combination of cultural traditions – Fu Xiao (夫孝) or Filial Piety and an exploding ageing population in China (WHO figures show that by 2050 China will have more than 330 million Chinese aged 65 or older, with 100 million of them aged over 80), has prompted the Chinese government to lead the way in how to manage an ageing population “actively.”
Wanshou Park is a shining demonstration of reintegrating the elderly into the community, encouraging them to age ‘actively’ by encouraging participation in physical and social activities and using the park and its surrounding facilities to offer additional services such as health and mental wellbeing.
The Wanshou project comprises redeveloping 25 percent of the existing park within four distinct components: encompassing the elderly, the young, a musical aspect and a sporting aspect.
“The aim of the project is to create facilities for strong, vital old people, but also the weak and the infirmed – people with hip or knee replacements, or poor eyesight, or Alzheimer’s and finding ways to regenerate the memory,” says Mr Donald.
“The idea of the park is really working on stimulating all the senses – sound, smell, touch, sight and invoking memory,” he says.
The design of the park has therefore included design aspects beyond the traditional – incorporating aspects suchsilk_tree_6.11 as a children’s playground to encourage a mix of old and young energies, fruit trees, to invoke memory through smell, working with local schools and hospitals in the Wanshou area to participate in activities within the park, as well as looking at ways to improve transport lines to bring bus routes closer to the park and how existing buildings surrounding the park could be reconverted into rehabilitation and health care centres, possible short-term housing, learning and educational facilities and refitting an existing hotel into a new one.
*Pictured above: The memory maze for cognitive therapy.

“When that happens, the infrastructure of the park will become the corp for elderly people, but within that, there will be facilities for families and the young,” says Mr Donald.

“We have tapped into schools and hospitals, so having school children in the park as “monitors” distributing water, pointing directions to toilets, or having hospital interns from the nearby hospital in the park taking blood pressure,” he says.
He says Fuxing Park in Shanghai’s French Concession is a great example of elderly people being encouraged to participate socially and physically with games of badminton and chess running alongside medical practitioners at tables taking blood pressure checks.
“You just don’t see that in Australia,” says Mr Donald.
silk_tree_greenhouses_web*Pictured right: The park’s glasshouse and horticultural therapy gardens.

Part of the Wanshou project has even involved employing a German playground specialist to consult on the park.

“It’s a great job! I’ve worked on some great projects, but this is one that really gets me excited,” says Mr Donald.
He says that if the Wanshou Park is successful, it could become a model for other parks for driving urban development around a focus on rehabilitation and aged care facilities.
“Instead of letting people go downhill gradually and being a strain on society and families and health infrastructure, this park encourages healthy, active ageing – staying fit and active until we all fall off the perch, so to speak, rather than a 20-year decline,” says Mr Donald. 

Active Ageinig

The World Health Organisation estimates the number of people aged 65 or above will grow from 524 million in 2010 (8 percent of the world’s population) to nearly 1.5 billion in 2050 (representing 16 percent of the world’s population). The greatest growth of the number of elderly people will occur in developed countries, especially China and India.

By 2050, the number of Chinese 65 or older will swell to more than 330 million, from 110 million in 2010.

By 2050 there could be more than 100 million Chinese over the age of 80.

Sometime between 2015 and 2020, a demographic milestone will occur, when for the first time in recorded history, the number of people over the age of 65 will outnumber the number of children under the age of five.


Join Australia-Asia Forum
receive newsletter & our event promotion

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.