More than 3,000 members of the Guangdong diaspora converged on Guangzhou this week to keep alive their heritage. Participants from 60 countries attended the second conference of the World Guangdong Community Federation. Despite the high turnout - the first event in Singapore two years ago drew 1,900 delegates - the age of the visitors cast doubt on the future of such events. Participants at the two-day conference - the opening ceremony of which was attended by Vice-Premier Qian Qichen on Tuesday - were mostly in their 60s and 70s. 'It's like an old folks' home,' one elderly Hong Kong participant surnamed Poon said. 'Old people have more time for these activities. 'The younger generation have their own lives.' For overseas Chinese such as Po-Ping Wong, a dentist in the United States, going back to the homeland is a sentimental journey. Visits to home towns are part of the experience. Miranda Yoon, 79, spoke of her and her husband's love for China, even though they hold foreign passports. Others spoke of keeping traditions and customs alive. However, such sentiments are often not shared by their foreign-born children, many of whom do not speak Guangdong dialects or Putonghua, and are used to a Western lifestyle. Dr Wong said he would like to bring his children, in their 40s, to the conference, but they were too busy with their careers. Arthur Loo, a second generation Chinese lawyer in Auckland, New Zealand, and one of the few younger faces at the meeting, came to trace his roots. Making contacts was important, Mr Loo said, but weaker legal protection meant he would never do business in China. Huang Huiping, of the Guangdong Returned Overseas Chinese Association, one of the organisers of the conference, said his group was aware of the need to renew the membership of clan associations overseas. 'We are making use of Chinese students overseas - we call them the new emigrants - to reach out to the younger generation by setting up professional associations,' she said. In the past, Chinese clan associations were based on home-town links or shared surnames. Such links were central to Chinese communities overseas in the early period of the Chinese diaspora as they helped Chinese emigrants settle in. With declining clan memberships, activities are now largely confined to the clubhouses, where the elderly meet to play mahjong or bicker over politics. Mr Poon believes the federation will continue to be relevant because of the Chinese government's support, pointing to Mr Qian's presence at the opening ceremony. 'It can survive if we bring our children back with us,' he said, adding his children, who are studying overseas, have never been back. China has a vested interest in ensuring the survival of clan associations, as they serve as a bridge to the world and are a source of investment funding. Guangdong's 30-million-strong diaspora has made a significant contribution to the province's economic development, accounting for 80 per cent of foreign direct investment, worth more than US$25.1 billion (HK$194 billion) to date.