China: Touching tribute to 'hipster' grandpa goes viral

Story highlights

  • Grandson takes photos of 85-year-old grandfather
  • Images went viral on Chinese social media
  • The 85-year-old was a farmer and had never worn a suit before

Beijing (CNN)An 85-year-old farmer, who tended rice paddies all his life and never wore a suit, has become an unlikely style icon in China.

A series of photos of Ding Bingcai, nattily dressed and striking elegant poses, taken by his fashion photographer grandson recently went viral on Chinese social media.
    He's drawn comparisons to Nick Wooster, the fifty something New York street-style star.
    Ding Guoliang, who prefers to be called Jesse, told CNN the photos were both a tribute to his grandpa and a way to raise awareness about caring for the elderly.
    Jesse had the idea of profiling his grandpa last summer when Bingcai moved to the southeastern city of Xiamen where his grandson owns a photography studio.
    "I wanted to show him what I do for a living," said Jesse, who spoke to CNN while visiting Beijing with Bingcai.
    "He had known I was a photographer, but thought I worked in an old-school photo studio."
    They spent three days shooting while wandering around the coastal city. In some of the photos, the two wore the same outfits and adopted the same posture in the same location.
    "My grandpa had never worn a suit before," Jesse said.
    "Like everybody in his generation, he experienced tremendous hardship when he was young. I only wish he had had a better life like mine."
    Clad in a duffel coat and a fur hat, Bingcai, a father of five and grandfather of 10, spoke little but said he enjoyed wearing the classy outfits.
    85-year-old Ding Bingcai, right, with grandson Ding Guoliang in a Beijing hotel on January 26, 2016. They are visiting Beijing from southern China's Fujian province to realize Bingcai's dream.

    Aging China

    Jesse told CNN he was moved by the overwhelmingly positive response.
    And with the Lunar New Year is fast approaching, he says it's inspired many to go home and spend time with grandparents.
    "I hoped that more people would care for their aging parents and grandparents, not to just physically feed them, but emotionally support them."
    Today, China has 222 million people older than 60, accounting for 16% of the country's population, according the National Bureau of Statistics, and that proportion is only expected to increase as the workforce shrinks.
    After spending his whole life tending rice paddies, Ding Bingcai has long dreamed of visiting Beijing.
    Researchers say the aging population will burden health care and social services and most rely on their children or spouse for support.
    Now 30, Jesse grew up with his grandpa Bingcai in the countryside until he was 10.
    "When I was a kid, he would keep all the delicious food for me -- eggs, apples, candy... and he loved telling stories about himself as a young boy."
    Jesse is now repaying the favor.
    He's taken his grandfather on his first trip to the Chinese capital to fulfill a life-long dream of his to visit Tian'anmen Square.
    And photos haven't just brought Jesse and his grandfather closer, they've unexpectedly strengthened ties among his extended family.
    "I am from a peasant family where people weren't particularly touchy feely," he says.