The 81-Year-Old Body Artist Everybody in China is Talking About

Deshun Wang | © Imaginechina / REX / Shutterstock
Deshun Wang | © Imaginechina / REX / Shutterstock
Photo of Cecilia Pidgeon
1 March 2017

A couple of years ago, 79 year-old-model Deshun Wang became an overnight sensation at China Fashion Week in Beijing, with his ripped physique. In what has been a traditionally ageist society, his example is helping to change attitudes towards older people.

The legal age of retirement for women in China is 55 for civil servants and 50 for other workers. For men, it’s 60, and people are usually considered old after the age of 50. Deshun Wang never had that ‘I am old’ thought, though. He says, ‘It’s all about your state of mind. It’s not about the age. Nature determines age, but you determine your state of mind.’ He has loved sports since he was young, especially swimming and still swims 1km (0.6 mi.) every day. His workout routine consists of three hours of daily exercise.

79-year-old Runway Model, Sheguang, China | © Imaginechina/REX/Shutterstock

He was born one of nine children in Shenyang, in northeast China. His father was a chef, while his mother was a housewife. His first job was as a streetcar conductor and he got his introduction to performing through his work unit’s band. At the Workers’ Cultural Palace in Shenyang, he took free lessons in singing, acting and dancing. He later took a job at a military factory and joined its art troupe. That experience helped him get work in radio, film and theatre. In the early 1980s, he even held his home town’s very first fashion show.

Aged 49, he decided to move to Beijing to become a ‘living sculpture’ and earn a more regular income. There, he started working out and has kept his body in shape ever since.

Deshun Wang represents a different lifestyle in the modern, but ageing Chinese society. Getting old is a physically natural process, but much more important is to keep your mind energetic and young. As Deshun Wang’s example shows, that helps enormously in helping one cope with new challenges.