A person over the age of 80 will normally have long since retired. But if the job is a top mainland academic post, then retirement is a hard decision as such a role offers great power and benefits that usually too enticing to give up. That's why the decision of 88-year-old Zhang Kaiyuan to retire from his position as a senior history professor at Huazhong Normal University in Wuhan has attracted widespread attention. China's highest academic positions include members of the Chinese Academy of Sciences or the Chinese Academy of Engineering, or senior professors in liberal arts. Such titles, effectively held for life, are given to academics to honour scholastic achievements - just as in the West. Top mainland academics enjoy competitive packages, on a par with that of a deputy minister, that include cars, houses, preferential medical treatment and a generous living allowance. The rationale for such largesse goes beyond simply wishing to reward scholars. Such institutions know that employing acclaimed academics and senior professors can help them to secure lucrative benefits granted by the authorities, such as additional honours, funding or development projects. Therefore, even if some of the elderly academics ask to retire, their institutions usually reject their requests. Since Qin Boyi, a pharmacologist and member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, was allowed to retire 10 years ago at 72, no other academics have retired, even though most of members of China's two academies are older than 70. Zhang, whose application to retire was approved in March, told the South China Morning Post that he had thought of retirement seven years ago, after falling seriously ill. He had felt guilty during the past few years about "receiving decent remuneration", he said. "I should have retired a long time ago," he added, admitting that in retirement he would have 100,000 yuan (HK$126,000) less to live on each year. In Wuhan, where he lives, the average annual salary is 38,000 yuan. Zhang said he postponed applying for retirement because he felt obliged to attend centennial commemorations of the 1911 Revolution and the 110th anniversary of his university - where he was president - last October. Shen Guofang, 80, also a member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, told CCTV that when he mentioned retiring from Beijing Forestry University, the university told him not to do so. "They said I was the figurehead of our university," Shen said. "The university and my department still need of my advice and guidance. They still place expectations on me." Yu Hai, a sociology professor at Fudan University, in Shanghai, hailed Zhang's decision as few people would give up a senior role with good benefits. Professor Wu Zunming, of East China Normal University, in Shanghai, said university faculties had many ways - some illegal - to secure high academic titles. For example, Zhang Shuguang, the disgraced former deputy chief engineer of the disbanded railways ministry, was investigated over claims that he bribed academics to be elected a member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering.