China’s hottest granny, at 70, has big plans ahead

Society & Culture

Photos courtesy of Han Bin

She’s graceful and elegant, with a packed schedule as a sought-after model and spokeswoman in China. And she just turned 70.

Meet China’s hottest granny: Han Bin 韩彬. She hit headlines last year after winning Miss China Tourism International “Golden Ambassador,” a beauty pageant for women over 40 — on her birthday, no less. Since then, Han has been in high demand, for everything from strutting the catwalk during New York Fashion Week to shooting home appliance ads.

“She has a better attitude than my 40-year-old self,” one commenter said of her.

Han is one of China’s many silver-haired folks. By 2040, more than one-fourth of the population will be over 60 years old, up from 12 percent in 2010, according to the World Health Organization. Authorities are scrambling to mitigate the impacts of an aging demographic and a shrinking workforce, which includes lower productivity, reduced tax coffers, and strain on the healthcare system.

The government wants seniors to remain active in society — a bigger challenge for those in rural areas — and is mandating adult children return home for visits, and encouraging continuing education for the elderly. It’s having an impact: more than 7 million Chinese seniors are now enrolled in “third-age” universities, according to the State Council. And the elderly are traipsing further afield. Seniors represent a major driver of growth for tourism: 87 percent of those 50 or older surveyed said they definitely planned to travel, according to Ctrip, China’s largest online travel agency.

And this is where Han steps in: she’s a big fan of being active, and clearly enjoys setting the example for other seniors. “Don’t just retire and stay at home,” she said.

Born in Dongbei in 1948, Han was 18 when the Cultural Revolution started. “That’s when you’re most youthful and beautiful,” she said. But “my generation of women very much lost that…when we were young, we didn’t have a chance to enjoy being beautiful. Now is the time to bring back those past dreams!”

Han herself was inspired after watching a televised competition featuring older female models. “I felt so moved that old people could be so beautiful, so elegant.”

She decided to try her hand at something new. She learned the basics of modeling, and eventually landed herself in a senior citizens’ performing arts troupe, putting on all sorts of shows with other energetic grannies, and even touring Russia. She also started designing and making her own clothes — swaths of jewel-toned hues and stylish, timeless silhouettes.

At someone’s suggestion, she entered a beauty pageant on a whim — the same one where she later claimed the crown, beating out 45 other svelte, elderly contestants.

She stands at 5 feet 6 inches and still cuts a mean figure in a qipao, a slim-fitting Chinese dress. So what’s her secret exercise and diet regimen? “I love drinking beer!” she said.

“I don’t have a regular exercise routine — it must be good genes.”

These days, Han is keeping busy with different gigs, sometimes working weekends — live television shows, ads for toasters, taped segments. “You know, sometimes they just need an older, white-haired person!” she laughed.

In a few months, she’s planning to participate in another pageant against contestants from 30 countries. Her husband and son — now 41 — support her adventures.

And Han is clearly relishing the spotlight.

“When I walk down the street, a lot of people turn their heads to look at me,” Han said. “Younger people who see me, they say, ‘You are my role model — when I am your age, I hope I can be like you.’”