NANJING, May 31 (Xinhua) -- "Homelands of longevity" are mushrooming in China as life expectancy increases, but such localities' reputations for longer lives masks deepening aging and environmental woes.
Nantong, a city in east China's Jiangsu Province, was named "Capital of Longevity" by the International Nature and Medicine Association (INMA) on Wednesday thanks to the number of centenarians it boasts. It is the first city in the world to receive the honor.
Morishita Keiichi, president of the INMA, said that Nantong, which enjoys a great natural environment, is home to 1,031 centenarians, equating to 14 per 100,000 people. Keiichi said that the city has hundreds of thousands of residents likely to surpass 100 years old, and labelled it a "homeland of longevity."
In recent years, more and more authorities across China have been trumpeting their record for longevity, hoping that such recognition will somehow bring in more visitors and fuel local economic growth.
The Chinese government has formally recognized more than 40 "longevity counties," and each of them is luring floods of tourists.
Bama in south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, for instance, is one of the most visited "longevity counties" in China. Stories of its "living legends" have spread across the country and enticed people hoping to find an elixir for an enviable long life.
In August 2013, various media outlets in China reported the ignorance of longevity pilgrims to Bama, some of whom "crawl like dogs" and even drink urine while there, believing such practices can help keep illness at bay.
While more newcomers swarming to such places do contribute to economic growth, there is also trouble in paradise.
Zhao Baohua, deputy director of the Gerontological Society of China, said that as the number of elderly grows, social security systems have failed to keep up. The problem is obviously particularly acute in longevity counties.
"These centenarians do enjoy cleaner air and water, but their life quality remains low in economic and psychological terms," Zhao said. Many old people without spouses or who have lost their children are in fact leading miserable lives.
Even in places like Nantong, where economic conditions are better than some remote counties, quality of life still lags behind that in developed countries, according to Zhao.
Ironically, influxes of visitors may in fact be making conditions worse, as the crowds bring a risk of pollution. Many of the visitors are sick, travelling in the desperate hope that a visit will somehow extend their life.
In 2012 alone about 180,000 people visited Bama, damaging the local environment and creating a scare among local residents about possible disease transmission, according to Chen Jinchao, head of the Guangxi Bama Longevity Research Institute.
Zheng Bingwen, an academic with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said that governments at local levels should build more comprehensive social security systems to help the aging population enjoy a higher quality of life, wherever they are in the country.
"They need to stop blindly following the trend of applying for an honor, and instead focus more on improving people's livelihood and their emotional well-being," according to Zheng.
People should develop a better understanding of what keeping oneself healthy is really about instead of swarming to so-called "longevity counties," according to Chen Jinchao.