Two years ago she joined the “Fashion Grandmas”, whose one-minute clips and live-streams of them turning Beijing’s streets into a catwalk is watched by millions of fans. They mix elegance with epithets of wisdom – on marriage, love and life – from a generation who are now increasingly integral to both the economy and online culture of China.

“Our young fans say they are not afraid of aging after seeing grannies like us living fashionable and happy lives,” said Sang.

China is getting old fast and Beijing is faced with the monumental challenge of how to provide for tens of millions of retirees. But this has also opened opportunities for those who are financially comfortable in their dotage and able to harness the commercial possibilities of technology.

It is an economy worth hundreds of billions of dollars, whose participants crave longevity, entertainment and consumer goods and are hooked, like everybody else, to their smartphones.

The “Fashion Grandmas” collective has 23 main members, and dozens of more fringe contributors across the country, aged from their late 50s to mid-70s. They make money from pop-up ads in their videos and live-streaming product sales. “They can sell 200 units of a product within a minute of starting a stream,” says their agent, He Daling.

Their videos also carry messages of inspiration, such as “beauty is not only for the young,” or “even the elderly can live a wonderful life!” as well as serious messages such as domestic violence.

One of their videos shows a man raising a hand to hit his girlfriend in a store before a furious older woman grabs his arm and waves for him to be dragged away by security guards. “Domestic violence is illegal” reads the text on the screen, adding that it is shameful to hit women. Another shows a pregnant woman being threatened by her husband before an elegant granny has him pinned back in his chair by bodyguards and gives the woman a hug.

“The elderly should live how they want and be optimistic,” Sang said. “Age is just a number.”

A generation of Chinese born in the 1960s is reaching the mandatory retirement age of 60 for men and 55 for women. These new retirees are the first group to receive higher education after the Mao-era Cultural Revolution, which scorned the “bourgeois” pursuit of learning and left a generation without social mobility.

“They are richer and highly educated,” said Bian Changyong, chief executive of Beijing Dama Technology, which helps run the elderly influencers’ social media. “That improves the ‘castability and quality of China’s elderly internet industry.”

The value of China’s “grey-haired” economy is estimated to reach 5.7 trillion yuan (nearly US$900 billion) this year, according to iiMedia Research.

Bian said the Covid-19 pandemic had also pushed the elderly online, hunting for shopping and entertainment.

To reach this vast, untapped pool of older consumers, Bian’s company also provides online courses for senior citizens to learn singing, dancing or kung fu through live-streaming channels.

“China’s mobile internet industry has earned money from every group … men, women, youngsters, parents, but not the elderly,” said Bian. “This could be the last structural opportunity of the industry.”

According to