Muscle men of China
By Carlos Barria
Feng Qing Ji, 69, and his younger brother Yu, 61, look at themselves in a mirror. Li tries to help Yu with his pose. He tells him to straighten his back.
They are not in a park, hanging around with other Chinese seniors, who typically meet up to play Mahjong or dance. They are covered in oil and wearing tiny speedos as they prepare for an amateur bodybuilder competition in Shaoxing, Zhejiang province.
Bodybuilding is not a very popular sport in China, despite the efforts of sport supplement companies that have promoted bodybuilding here by touring stars like Ronnie Coleman, winner of eight Mr. Olimpia titles.
In a suburban area of Shaoxing, enthusiasts compete in categories that range from “Mr. Fitness Man” to “Grand Old Man” — the latter a category for male participants over 50. The Feng Quig brothers started training 10 years ago and now take their place among some 100 competitors from clubs around that city.
While competitors are stretching and perfecting their poses in front of a mirror, a young girl in her 20s approaches Li and asks him for some advice on her own postures. Silence falls over the room as other contestants turn around to listen. Mr. Li, the oldest competitor in the tournament, gently corrects the young lady before she hits the stage.
Then it’s time for the “Grand Old Man” category. People in the audience stand and applaud as four men over age 50 enter and alternate between poses, then line up together for a final pose-off. After 15 minutes of grimaces and grins, the judges have a winner.
Jin He, 57, takes first prize. He receives a medal, a certificate, and 1,000 RMB ($160 US) in cash. After he collects his award, this champion of muscle changes back into his street clothes and flip-flops, and jumps onto a bus to go home.