85-year-old Ding Bingcai has become an international fashion icon after catapulting into the headlines. The elderly Chinese farmer has lived through civil war, revolution, famine and one of history’s biggest economic booms, and is delighted with his new-found fame. His grandson Ding Guoliang, a photographer, starred him in a fashion shoot, dressing him in designer suits, bow ties, glasses and fedoras. Despite never having worn a suit before, the photographs of the grandfather of 10 quickly went viral, with internet users giving him the title as ‘China’s Coolest Grandpa’. One Chinese newspaper even went as far as to claim the fashion icon had achieved world-class levels of charm.
The English-language version of the Communist party’s official newspaper, People’s Daily, said: “The old man is totally turned into a heartthrob”. Speaking about the photographs, Ding said he enjoyed his unlikely transformation from farmer to fashion icon, describing the photographs as ‘beautiful’. However, modelling isn’t the most success Ding has received in his lifetime. Ding was born in 1931, several years after the death of China’s first president and two decades before Chairman Mao’s communists gained power in 1949. He grew up in the rural village of Songshuping, making a living as a subsistence farmer, cutting bamboo and growing rice.
When Ding was in his late 20’s, China underwent a calamitous famine, claiming the lived of 45 million citizens. “It was very hard in the past,” Ding recalled. “Before, I didn’t have enough food to eat. [We were] always starving. Back then, we had no money. Things are much better now.” But after the three year famine ended in 1961 Ding married his childhood sweetheart, going onto have two daughters and three sons. Sadly, Ding’s wife passed away in 2014, but she left behind 10 grandchildren who all live in eastern China.
Grandson Ding Guoliang, otherwise known as Jesse, spent three days on the photoshoot with his grandfather, using the streets of Xiamen as their set. He said that the photoshoot was intended to portray his grandfather as elegant: “He looks amazing in the pictures. Not everybody looks good in suits. But he’s got class”. He also described his grandfather as a kind and gentle man: “I’ll give you an example. Once we were in a lift with lots of other people. He decided he wanted to take out his cigarettes and share them with everybody else. He felt everybody was his friend. He is really honest and simple”. The photographer later said: “He is happy that people are being nice to him and to be welcomed by so many people. In fact, noise and excitement is what elderly people need the most. Having people pay attention to him and having a sense of existing are important to him. I want my grandpa to feel that he is useful.”