EFFEMINATE MEN IN CHINA AND THE GOVERNMENT CAMPAIGN AGAINST THEM

EFFEMINATE MEN IN CHINA

The “feminization” of Chinese men has become a heated topic in China. Associated Press reported in 2019: “Chinese men are increasingly using cosmetics and facial products. Chen Yiqun, a taxi driver in the eastern city of Linhai, gained internet notoriety when photos of him driving while wearing a moisturising skin mask went viral last year. He was suspended from work for three days and was the butt of social media jokes, but he also found fans online who applauded his facial regimen." In 2019, Angry Chinese parents attacked the Education Ministry’s decision to hold up the cosmetics-wearing Taiwanese boy band F4 as role models. [Source: Associated Press, May 8, 2019]

Researcher Zheng Jiawen from Nanjing University’s School of Journalism and Communications contends that the real problem is different. “China’s real crisis of masculinity isn’t ‘sissy pants’. It’s a generation of men anxious and insecure about their declining social status and their desperation to cling to power,” Zheng wrote on the Shanghai-based website Sixth Tone. “We must all learn to accept the fact that a delicate face does not mean a weak heart; slender shoulders do not reveal a fragile soul; and a ‘betrayal’ of outdated masculine stereotypes is not a betrayal of the nation.”

The BBC reported: China's top political advisers have said China is experiencing a national "masculinity crisis." “Chinese boys have been spoiled by housewives and female teachers," adviser Si Zefu, said in a policy proposal. Boys would soon become "delicate, timid and effeminate" unless action was taken, he said. [Source: Zixu Wang and Xin Chen and Caroline Radnofsky, BBC, March 5, 2021]

“Boys in China traditionally are expected to show strong leadership skills, get good grades in math and science and excel in school sports, Fang Gang, a sociology professor at Beijing Forestry University, wrote in a blog post. Girls, meanwhile, traditionally are viewed as less intellectual, and they are expected to be less competitive. The gender norms are rooted in traditional philosophy, in which two elements govern the world: Women are associated with the softer, more passive element of "yin"; men are represented by the tougher, more active element of "yang." [Source: Zixu Wang and Xin Chen and Caroline Radnofsky, BBC, March 5, 2021]

Challenging Traditional Gender Roles in China

According to the BBC: “The ideas about gender roles have begun to change in recent years, however. Since 2010, more girls than boys have entered universities, and girls regularly outperform boys in standardized testing, calling into question the traditional view that boys are naturally more academic. “The change has led to a common saying: "Yin in prosperity and yang in decline." [Source: Zixu Wang and Xin Chen and Caroline Radnofsky, BBC, March 5, 2021]

“The growing popularity of male Chinese pop stars who wear makeup and androgynous, sparkly clothing has also influenced youth culture. Taking inspiration from Confucianism and South Korean pop culture, China's young style connoisseurs have embraced the "gentle style" look, a softer form of masculinity that stands in sharp contrast to traditional tough-guy tropes, allowing more diverse forms of self-expression.

“The rising economic status of women and increasing feminism have also upended traditional ideas of masculinity. China has a stark gender imbalance — in a country of 1.4 billion people, there are nearly 37 million more men than women, a consequence of the preference for sons under China's one-child policy, which was in place from 1979 to 2015. Today, however, women are more able to show competitiveness and leadership in the workplace, and they are able to take more initiative when it comes to dating and marriage.

“Chen Yong, 50, of Shanghai said that he wasn't a fan of the "feminization" of pop culture but that he believed people should have the freedom to choose how they live. He was more conservative when it came to his 13-year-old son, however. “My son used to be delicate and introverted, so I encouraged him to be more masculine by playing basketball and practicing taekwondo," he said. Chen said he would accept his son if he stayed "soft" despite playing more sports. But there were still "certain lines" he wouldn't let him cross, like raising his pinkie finger in the gesture known in China as "orchid finger," which is stereotypically associated with gay men and transgender women.

Men’s Cosmetics Take off in China

Pascale Trouillaud of AFP wrote: “More and more Chinese men are looking to the power of skin creams and anti-age serums to help them get ahead professionally, sparking a booming new market that has major cosmetics firms salivating. Chinese men have fewer hang-ups than Western men about using skin care products — and keen customers, especially in urban areas, are even snapping up pots of foundation, toners and whitening creams traditionally bought by women.” Industry giants such as France’s L’Oreal and German group Beiersdorf, which makes the Nivea line, are spending big on ads and distribution in China to conquer the promising market — and concocting new tailor-made products. “It’s a very dynamic market,” Jackson Zhang, vice president of L’Oreal China, told AFP, saying that about 10 percent of Chinese men are already using skin care products specifically made for them. [Source:Pascale Trouillaud, AFP, March 4, 2011]

The typical customer is an urban professional living not just in the capital Beijing or cosmopolitan Shanghai, but also in smaller cities nationwide. “When Chinese men’s income rises, in the beginning, they buy a good watch, then they move on to electronics, then they move to clothes, buy famous brands and finally they move to personal care products,” Zhang explained. “Men believe that using skin care products can give them a better competitive edge for their jobs, or for girls.” Attitudes have changed about these so-called “city jade men” — the Chinese equivalent of metrosexuals who spend a great deal of time and money on their appearance,” Trouillaud of AFP wrote. “Business has been so good that the spa can no longer accommodate its client base. Ouyang said he will open another flagship salon in September as well as a third location.”

China will account for half of global growth in the men’s skin care market in the 2009-2014 period, market intelligence firm Euromonitor said in a study released last November. During those five years, the Chinese market is projected to expand by 28.7 percent, as compared with growth of just 5.7 percent in North America and 7.9 percent in western Europe, Euromonitor said. In 2010, sales of men’s skin care products soared 30 percent to $280 million in China — ahead of North America, Euromonitor said, noting that the market had evolved in a few years to include “more sophisticated product lines offering anti-ageing, exfoliating and energy-boosting properties”. “Our customers are mainly white-collar workers, entrepreneurs, people whose salaries are above average,” Ouyang Jiale, the young manager of a men’s beauty salon in Beijing, told AFP. “As the Chinese say, the better the image you project, the more money you will earn!”

Popular Effeminate Chinese Influencer

Associated Press reported: Li Chao, 21, lives in an plush outer-Beijing apartment with two assistants and a brown toy poodle named Coffee. He is the kind of man many conservatives despise. His hair is artfully mussed and he wears a subtle rose shade on his eyelids, a natural lipstick and pale foundation. He makes US$30,000 a month live-streaming himself applying make-up, an extraordinary sum for a young man without a degree. [Source: Associated Press, May 8, 2019]

“At school, troubled by pimples, it bothered him that boys were not supposed to care about their appearance. He got himself some concealer and started asking girls how to apply make-up. “I felt delighted because every day I would wear make-up, and I felt really fresh and really great,” he said. “It put me in a good mood.” His father was horrified. “He would get angry, and he would question me. He said you should not do girlie things. You should not look like a girl,” Li said. “He’d say: ‘Stop wearing that. Stop it. You should go outside and play sports.’ I’ll never change him.”

“Li has 1.5 million followers on the video-streaming site Kuaishou and 2 million on the social media site Weibo, mostly girls and women from 12 to 30. He waded into the debate on Weibo sparked by the controversial back-to-school TV programme, with many sharing his views: “We should create a tolerant and diverse society. Men should focus on having an independent soul, a righteous heart and a strong sense of social responsibility.” “What’s wrong with having a much more diverse image of men?” Li asked. “It’s common these days for men to care about their appearance.”“

Men’s Bags in China

Many men carry purse-like handbags. Some regard them as symbols of their success and spend quite a bit of money on them. Gucci, Burberry, Louis Vuitton and other companies have introduced men’s handbags aimed specifically for the Chinese market. For Dunhill, the English menswear company with 70 outlets in China, a bag selling for around $500 is its best-selling product in China. The owner of man’s purse, a 25-year-old construction manager, told the International Herald Tribune: “It’s perfect when I’m not carrying too much stuff. I have a lot of bags, but this one is the most convenient. You don’t have to dig around — just open it up and everything is right there. A 31-year-old man said, “It’s comfortable. I can fit everything I need in here, and I know I won’t lose things.”

“Designed for men, many of these guy purses often known as shou bao in Mandarin would be right at home in the women's handbag section of an upscale department store,” David Pierson wrote in the Los Angeles Times. “Popular styles include the oversize wallet with wraparound zippers like Zhang's and the embossed leather Coach handbag with the slinky shoulder strap and handles. Colors trend toward solid brown, black and gray. But some fashion-forward gents don't mind showing a little flash: Burberry plaid, Gucci's interlocking GG pattern or Louis Vuitton's distinct LV monogram.” For Chinese, it's a show of masculinity," said Zhang Lianhai, a 33-year-old marketing strategist gripping a plain, black leather Prada handbag outside a Gucci store in Beijing. "We need luxury brands. You won't be taken seriously if you look too casual." Not everything likes them, A Beijing-based fashion stylist told the International Herald Tribune, “A bigger business bag is fine, but a smaller handbag looks like something women use. Frankly, I don’t understand whey men carry that type of bag.” [Source: David Pierson, Los Angeles Times, February 07, 2011]

“How China's often gruff, male-dominated business culture developed a taste for purses owes a little to history, necessity — and vanity. The country's economic awakening 30 years ago launched an entrepreneurial class bent on dressing for success. Mao tunics quickly gave way to Western suits, but Wall Street-style briefcases never really caught on. Enter the fat wallet problem. China is now the world's No. 2 economy, but it still runs largely on cash. The largest paper bill, the 100-yuan note, is worth only about $15. So even modest debts can require businesspeople to carry thick wads of cash that could choke a traditional billfold. The proliferation of smart phones and other electronic gadgets in recent years found men running out of pockets to put them in. In a nation where most people still use public transportation to get around, commuters need to keep their hands free to hang from a subway strap or bus pole. Super-size wallets, handled clutches and strapped bags turned out to be not only useful, but also a way to display rising affluence. Any common laborer can afford a cheap nylon satchel. Designer accessories that are expensive and streamlined, with European flair, are viewed here as the trappings of the successful Chinese alpha male.”

Such bags first appeared in China in the 1980s when government cadres used slim cases called "gongwen bao," or public document bags, to carry important papers. Hong Kong films in the 1980s and 90s featured similar bags, with men carrying them under their arm and holding them in their hand. Today they seem to be particularly popular in Beijing. The editor of Men’s Uno, China’s No. 1 men’s fashion magazine, told the International Herald Tribune, the hand bag “is a special look embraced by businessmen or government officials. It’s the sign of a successful, traditional, stable man, someone to be taken seriously.”

Chinese Men with Designer Purses

David Pierson wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Tiger Zhang browsed the sweaters at the Hugo Boss boutique at the upscale Oriental Plaza mall looking for fashionable additions to his wardrobe. The 41-year-old investor was dressed in the unofficial uniform of Chinese businessmen: dark blazer, crisp white shirt, designer slacks, silky tan socks, hand-tooled loafers — and an expensive purse. Lest anyone think the $500 Dunhill clutch with dual bronze zippers belonged to his wife, he proudly explained how his business cards, cash and two cellphones fit neatly into its buttery leather interior. [Source: David Pierson, Los Angeles Times, February 07, 2011]

"It's crucial for business," Zhang, who chose the chocolate-colored bag because he thought it was stylish without being flashy, told the Los Angeles Times. "It shows I have good taste." Zhang’s bag, wrote Pierson shows that “the designer handbag, long a fashion staple for stylish women worldwide, has become a status symbol for upwardly mobile men in China. At business meetings and social events across China these days, many of the Prada, Louis Vuitton and Burberry bags are being toted by the fellows in the crowd.” Wang Zhongzhu, a 42-year-old insurance executive, wouldn't dream of networking without his $1,000 leather Dunhill slung over his shoulder. He said the creamy brown mini-messenger bag sends a message that he appreciates — and can afford — fine accessories.” "It's a way of representing where you stand," Wang said. "It makes people think you could potentially work for a big company."

David Pierson wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “Luxury leather goods makers can't believe their luck: Both sexes in the world's most populous country adore purses. Men represent 45 percent of the $1.2-billion market for all luxury handbags in China, according to Victor Luis, president of Coach Retail International. That figure is just 7 percent in the U.S. "China is a fantastic opportunity," Luis said. "There's a confidence and comfort in Chinese men utilizing bags in the same manner as women do."[Source: David Pierson, Los Angeles Times, February 07, 2011]

Indeed, pricey handbags — power purses, if you will — are often wielded for maximum effect, said Paul French, a Shanghai-based author and chief representative of the market research group Access Asia. The retail analyst said he was struck by the way many first-generation Chinese entrepreneurs used these props, leaving them unzipped just enough to whip out a gold lighter or reveal a brick of 100-yuan notes. "They're a tribe like any other.... They needed to be able to recognize each other across the banquet table," French said. "They're the guys that built modern China."

“These men are also boosting the fortunes of luxury retailers such as Hermes International... Companies are already retooling their marketing efforts to reflect the purchasing clout of Chinese men. In Louis Vuitton's new ad campaign, Taiwanese-Canadian model Godfrey Gao carries a slender checkered bag with its strap slung across his body.” It's exactly the kind of bag Yang Jun aspires to own,” Pierson wrote. “The 20-year-old office clerk at a Beijing cosmetics manufacturer knows it could set him back more than $1,000. He'll have to save for months. But he said it would be money well spent. "As a man, you must have one of those bags," he said. "It will bring you status, dignity and boost your image." In the meantime, Yang makes do with a $45 knock-off Louis Vuitton. Despite its provenance, he said his superiors at work told him the strappy number was a handsome accessory. They should know: They all carry the real thing. "It gave me more confidence immediately," Yang said of his trusty bag. "But I have no doubt I will buy a real one sometime in the future."

“Save Our Boys” and China’s “Masculinity Crisis”

After China’s annual college entrance examination, the gaokao, took in 2017, Zeng Yuli wrote in Sixth Tone: “Although many provincial ministries of education discourage people from drawing attention to the nation’s top scorers, such admonitions cannot completely quash public interest. People are curious about not only the identities of the top scorers, but also gender: Are the girls scoring higher, or the boys? According to statistics published online, over the last 40 years of gaokao examinations, boys accounted for 56 percent of all top scorers in China’s 31 provinces. At first glance, this would imply that boys generally have the edge over girls. However, if we look at statistics from just the last decade, the proportion of female top scorers jumps to 53 percent, giving them a clear majority. [Source: Zeng Yuli Sixth Tone, July 30, 2017: Translator: Lewis Wright; editors: Zhang Bo and Matthew Walsh]

“In China, the term nanhai weiji, or “boys’ crisis,” refers to the fear that boys are not performing as well as girls in a variety of fields. The crisis manifests itself in two ways. First, boys have fallen behind girls in academic performance. This is particularly the case during their compulsory education, although boys have begun to lag behind girls in higher education as well. Second, it has been claimed that boys are increasingly losing their so-called masculine temperament, or nanxing qizhi, and are becoming more and more effeminate. More conservative Chinese observers believe that boys are supposed to be boisterous, daring, and bold; they should be eager to try new things and shoulder new responsibilities. But now, their detractors say, boys have become fragile and weedy — they are “soft as sheep” and suffer from “muscle weakness.”

“The notion of a boys’ crisis has become an increasingly global topic: Such discussions exist in the U.S., the U.K., and Australia. Yet whereas most Western commentators decry the fact that underperforming boys turn to petty crime and violence, Chinese voices tend to bemoan their loss of masculinity. This crisis, they say, threatens the future of Chinese society and even China as a nation. To conservative commentators, manliness is not merely a personal affair. How boys behave is thought to reflect the changing disposition of Chinese people more generally. Confucian concepts inherent in traditional Chinese culture — such as loyalty, fealty, benevolence, and wisdom — supposedly inform the masculine disposition central to the notions of shi, the “noble scholar,” and da zhangfu, the “true man.” As Lin Shaohua, a well-known writer and translator of Japanese, has bemoaned: “A people lacking masculine vigor has no hope; a nation lacking masculine vigor has no future.”

“In response, a number of experts and scholars in China have launched a movement aimed at “saving our boys,” which has, in turn, been taken up by local education bureaus and integrated into teaching methods. An elementary school in Wuhan recently set up a “male teachers’ workshop” in which “dialogues between men” are regularly held. Meanwhile, a self-styled “male-oriented” experimental junior high school in Shanghai has set up classes composed entirely of boys, as well as added classes in subjects that are thought to be particularly manly, such as martial arts, Chinese chess, and rock music.

Debunking China’s “Masculinity Crisis”

Zeng Yuli wrote in Sixth Tone: ““Public discourse is rife with stories about the boys’ crisis, yet people have seemingly forgotten to consider a key question: Does this problem actually exist? To me, the simple answer is no.“First of all, we should examine the main basis for the argument that masculinity in China is endangered: the lackluster academic performance of boys in comparison to their female counterparts. This poor performance can, I believe, be primarily attributed to biological differences: The brains of boys and girls develop at different speeds. Throughout elementary school, boys tend to develop linguistic expression and written language skills more slowly than girls. To a degree, this puts boys at a disadvantage in some assessments and exams. [Source: Zeng Yuli Sixth Tone, July 30, 2017]

“There’s another basis for the spurious “boys’ crisis” argument: the notion that boys increasingly lack a so-called masculine temperament. This manner of speaking is inherently contemptuous, as it depicts traditionally masculine qualities as inherently superior to traditionally female ones. It also implies that only men, and not women, may possess a such a temperament: After all, if women take on qualities that men have abandoned, there would be no substantive difference between the sexes.

“In light of this latter argument, Xu Anqi, a marriage and family researcher, says concerns that men have supposedly become weak and soft-spoken, or that women have become excessively masculine, demonstrate that to this day, “certain scholars, as well as the general public, consider men to be a superior group who embody qualities such as wisdom, self-confidence, independence, and strong will, and who are entitled to dominant roles in academia, the workplace, and society at large.”

“In essence, notions of masculine and feminine temperaments are merely the result of long-standing gender stereotypes. Who says that all men must embody the same set of qualities? Who decreed that such traits are exclusive to men? To paraphrase the sociologist R.W. Connell, these rigid images of gender roles are merely social constructions that have become reinforced through repetition. Men who come across as unconventionally gentler in their words and actions are merely making masculinity more diverse. Any culture dictating that only one rigid definition of masculinity is correct, and that any other expression of masculinity is inadequate and needs to be “saved,” is a culture of intolerance.

Chinese Government Campaign Against Effeminate Men

The BBC reported: “The Chinese government maintains a more conservative view of how men and women should behave. Depictions of gay relationships are banned from Chinese television under a 2016 law barring "vulgar, immoral and unhealthy content." And while homosexuality was decriminalized in 1997, no law prevents discrimination based on sexual orientation. In September 2018, when a television special shown to students on the first day of school featured male Chinese pop stars, furious editorials in major newspapers called the stars a bad influence. The government-run news agency Xinhua described the performance as "like putting chili in your eyes."

“Geopolitics may be behind the government's fears that "yang" is on the decline, said Joshua Eisenman, an associate professor at the University of Notre Dame's Keough School of Global Affairs who is a senior fellow in China studies at the American Foreign Policy Council. China's preoccupation with its people's physical prowess began during the "Century of Humiliation," he said by email, referring to the period from 1839 to 1949 when the country was repeatedly colonized or beaten in war by Britain, France, Germany, Russia and Japan. “The narrative taught to all Chinese children remains that under the [Communist] party's leadership, China strengthened itself to resist and overcome the West," Eisenman said. "What concerns me most about this new policy is its distinctive appeal to a concept of masculinity that is defined by service of the state."

“Guo Biyan, a gym teacher at a primary school in China's southeastern Zhejiang province, said he is leading just two physical education classes a week, even though the government requires four weekly sessions. And even then, other teachers sometimes pressure him to limit the extent to which students actually exercise in his classes so they can reserve energy for their academic studies, he said. “Main subject teachers and lots of parents think it's fine if [students] don't get enough exercise, because PE is only a small part of school exams," Guo said.

Chinese Government Worries About BTS Idol Effect on Its Young Men

The government in Beijing has become worried that the popularity of BTS and other makle K-Pop groups was turning Chinese boys and young men into ‘sissy pants’ men who wear make-up and earrings. Associated Press reported: “China’s boy bands and celebrities are influenced by K-pop idols from South Korea like BTS. People such as Jackson Yee — with their delicate beauty, dyed hair and haute couture wardrobes — have a massive following among women in the country. But China’s state-run media condemns the young idols, calling them “sissy pants” and “young fresh meat”. The backlash deepened after a back-to-school TV programme featured the boy band F4. Angry parents attacked the Education Ministry’s decision to hold up the cosmetics-wearing young men as role models; state media warned that a “sick” and “decadent” culture threatened the future of the nation. [Source: Associated Press, May 8, 2019]

“The gender stereotyping is not just about gender identity itself,” said an author and researcher on Chinese masculinity. “It’s about the reproduction of the nation and how to properly cultivate the next generation.” Dr Song Geng of the University of Hong Kong said the fear partly reflects deep-seated insecurity about Chinese power, after historical humiliations such as the opium wars and domination of Chinese rulers by foreign imperial powers. “They’re worrying that if Chinese men are so effeminate … then we will become a weak country in future and we cannot compete with our rivals,” he said. “There’s anxiety about the virility of the nation being harmed by those effeminate male images.”

“In a nation where men dominate political and business leadership and campaigns for gender equality have gained little traction, the debate over what is “effeminate” has become a popular pastime among older conservative residents, and mostly among men. Screenwriter Wang Hailin says the young men resemble male prostitutes sought after by some affluent older women. “We need to be aware of this effeminacy before it’s too late and deal with it,” said Wang, 48. He has berated fellow screenwriters, saying they portray men as “wimps, cowards, losers and idiots” and that China should look to Hollywood for strong alpha male characters. “It has created the impression that Chinese men are all weak, irresponsible and indifferent,” he warned. “Male actors represent national ideology. We cannot encourage the younger generation to look up to them as role models.”

“Chinese military leaders seem to share fears about the nation’s men, with the army newspaper People’s Liberation Army Daily complaining that 20 per cent of recruits were not fit enough to pass the fitness test for admission because they were overweight, watched too many cellphone videos, drank too much or masturbated too often.

Chinese Boys Train at ‘Real Men’ Boot Camps to Counteract BTS Idol Effect

Some Chinese parents have taken a a hard-line approach and sent their kids off to boot-camp-type programs to make sure they are tough guys. Associated Press reported: “It is minus 10 degrees Celsius (14 degrees Fahrenheit) the morning two dozen boys gather at a Beijing park to be transformed into alpha males. The wind bites, worsening nerves as the boys — the youngest seven years old — prepare to strip to their waists for a run. “One of the watching mothers is worried. She wants her son to grow into a macho male, but it’s so cold. She tells him he can keep his shirt on, or perhaps skip the run through Olympic Forest Park.[Source: Associated Press, May 8, 2019]

“This is the kind of “feminine” parenting that coach Tang Haiyan fears can ruin boys. Tang, a former schoolteacher, founded the Real Man Training Club to combat what he and others in China see as a masculinity crisis. It is part of a backlash against the make-up- and earring-wearing male pop idols and actors who have gained immense popularity in the country. “If you are promoting these effeminate figures, it’s a calamity for our country,” Tang said.

“In the Beijing park, Tang likens his club to a “reserve for alpha males”. On the morning of the shirtless run, the boys arrive clad in down jackets, but one by one the layers come off. Each boy dons a headband with the words “Real Man”. Their track suits and shirts display slogans in English such as “Power Leader” and “Anything is Possible”. “I think it’s a good opportunity for him to gradually cultivate a macho character,” said the mother who suggested her boy could skip the run, who gave her surname as Chen. She described her son as shy and introverted and said participating in outdoor camps boosts his confidence. “If you are a male, you are supposed to have those male traits. If you are a girl, you tend to be softer,” she added. “But I don’t think the entertainment industry has shown good role models for society because the celebrities they put on the big screen exhibit a more feminine side of men. That’s the problem.”

Chinese Government Campaign to Boost Masculinity

In 2021, China's Education Ministry published a notice detailing how it planned to counter the "feminization" of young men and boys and cultivate masculinity" in boys from kindergarten through high school. . The proposals, designed to target effeminacy, included hiring and training more gym teachers, testing students more comprehensively in physical education, making health education compulsory and supporting research into issues like the "influence of the phenomenon of internet celebrities on adolescents' values. The New York Times said. There are also guidelines on changing physical education classes' curriculum to bolster the "spirit of yang"— the traditional make spiritual force. The plans, not surprisingly, were furious fierce opposition from academics and social media users. Posts criticizing the efforts went viral on Chinese social media apps. [Sources: Joshua Zitser, Business Insider, March 13, 2021; Zixu Wang and Xin Chen and Caroline Radnofsky, BBC, March 5, 2021]

Joshua Zitser wrote in Business Insider: “The plans were introduced after a senior government official said that the country is experiencing a "masculinity crisis," The Times said. Si Zefu, a top adviser to the Chinese Communist Party, wrote in May that these initiatives were needed to prevent boys from becoming "delicate, timid and effeminate," NBC News said. He stressed that it was a matter of urgency, citing national security and threats to "China's survival and development," the media outlet reported.

“Experts have criticized the efforts to enforce masculinity. “The concept of masculinity and femininity many people have is really nostalgia for a past we can't go back to," Shen Yifei, a sociologist at Fudan University, told Chinese state broadcaster CGTN. "There is nothing wrong with men being caring and emotionally expressive — qualities considered to be feminine, and women can also benefit from being courageous and rational." Fang Gang, a sociology professor at Beijing Forestry University, echoed a similar sentiment. "Men are not necessarily aggressive, competitive, and athletic, while women are not necessarily passive, emotional, and soft," the academic told NBC News. "Good characteristics are unisex, which both girls and boys should learn." The response on social media has been overwhelmingly negative, according to the BBC. One user of the popular Chinese social media platform Weibo asked: "Is feminine now a derogatory term?" The post received more than 220,000 likes and prompted a hashtag that now has over 1.5 billion views, CGTN reported. “None of these proposals have come from women," said another Weibo comment that was seen by the BBC.

According to the BBC: The plan “inflamed a debate over modern gender roles as China's government increasingly emphasizes what many consider to be outdated and damaging stereotypes for men and boys. “Boys don't need masculinity education," said Lü Pin, the founder of China's largest feminist advocacy media channel, Feminist Voices, which was banned by Chinese censors in 2018. “The concept of masculinity forces every man to be tough, which excludes and harms men with other types of characteristics," she said. "It also reinforces men's hegemony, control and position over women, which goes against gender equality." [Source: Zixu Wang and Xin Chen and Caroline Radnofsky, BBC, March 5, 2021]

China’s 'Masculinity' Campaign Targets Girlie Schoolboys

The BBC reported: No one invited Bu Yunhao to be in their group for the annual class trip. The other fifth graders at Shanghai Shangde Experimental School made fun of the 11-year-old, calling him "too girly." “I wanted to run away, right out of the classroom," said Yunhao, now 13 and a first-year middle schooler in Shanghai, China's largest city. [Source: Zixu Wang and Xin Chen and Caroline Radnofsky, BBC, March 5, 2021]

“Some of Yunhao's classmates made fun of his high-pitched voice and the way he "screamed" when he tried to maintain discipline among his fellow students as a class monitor. Others teased him for spending so much time with girls and said he acted like he was "trying to date" the other boys in the class.

The bullying eventually stopped. Yunhao said he's comfortable with who he is now and doesn't need to try to be more masculine. “I'm a kind guy. I'm outgoing, modest, gentle and considerate. I've made lots of friends now," he said. "Saying I'm 'girly' is superficial."

Chinese Media Cracks Down on 'Effeminate' Males

In September 2021, China's broadcasting regulator said it would ban "effeminate" aesthetics in entertainment shows and that "vulgar influencers" should be avoided. Beth Timmins of the BBC wrote: It's part of a tightening of rules over what it described as "unhealthy content" in programmes. The National Radio and Television Administration (NRTA) said political and moral conduct should be included as criteria in the selection of actors. Certain talent contest show formats have also been stopped.[Source:Beth Timmins, BBC News, September 3, 2021]

“The authorities pledged to promote what it defined as more masculine images of men and criticised male celebrities who use lots of make up. However, it said programmes that promoted traditional, revolutionary or "advanced socialist" culture, or foster a patriotic atmosphere, were to be encouraged. Lynette Ong, a professor of political science at the University of Toronto's Asian Institute, said that "this is part of Xi's latest efforts to 'cleanse' what he or the CCP sees as undesirable social culture, such as excessive video gaming by teenagers". Prof Ong told the BBC that the latest announcements were "evidence of the Party's ever encroaching role into the lives of ordinary people."

In 2019, during further moves on censorship, China blurred out the earlobes of some of its young male pop stars in television and internet appearances to hide their piercings. Tattoos and men's ponytails have also previously been blurred from screens. The country's official Xinhua News Agency criticised what it termed society's effeminate male celebrities in 2018. The agency added: "To cultivate a new generation that will shoulder the responsibility of national rejuvenation, we need to resist erosion from indecent culture."

Joe McDonald of Associated Press wrote: Broadcasters must “resolutely put an end to sissy men and other abnormal esthetics,” the TV regulator said, using an insulting slang term for effeminate men — “niang pao,” or literally, “girlie guns.” That reflects official concern that Chinese pop stars, influenced by the sleek, girlish look of some South Korean and Japanese singers and actors, are failing to encourage China's young men to be masculine enough.” One Chinese man Beijing was keeping an eye was idol Lu Han, also known as China's Justin Bieber in Beijing.[Source: Joe McDonald, Associated Press, September 2, 2021]

Chinese Television Ad Against Effeminate Men Backfires

In October 2018, Anhui TV released a video ad for its new reality show, “The Journey of Youth” where six teenagers born after 1995 travel around the country and complete mental and physical challenges. In the clip, the six participants, four boys and two girls, take turns to introduce themselves. At the end of each one’s segment, the teen says, “I’m from the post-’95 generation and I object to niangpao niángpào (sissy boys).” [Source: Jiayun Feng, SupChina, October 11, 2018]

Jiayun Feng wrote in SupChina: “It’s very unlikely that these teens volunteered to speak out about men with feminine qualities on national television. One thing for sure is that it’s the kind of message that the show’s production team tries to convey to its audience, and it echos the anti-effeminate sentiment (in Chinese) in a few op-eds published by Chinese state media this year, including Xinhua News Agency and the People’s Daily. In these articles, authors often lambaste “fresh young meat” xi oxiānròu), a slang term describing young male celebrities with slender figures and feminine qualities. These soft-faced young male stars are blamed for subverting gender norms and adversely impacting young people.

“Just as such opinion pieces have backfired badly in the past, this new ad has been widely criticized on Chinese social media for its implicit sexism and homophobia. “Every person is entitled to be just the way they are. As long as I don’t get in the way of others, you have no right to tell me what I should be,” a Weibo user commented (in Chinese). The controversial ad may have also sparked a boycott against the show, which is slated to premiere later this month. In a protest video produced by an anonymous internet user, the creator re-edited the original ad — the new version now has participants say, “I am niangpao and I object to The Journey of Youth.”

Image Sources: 1) Posters,Landsberger Posters http://www.iisg.nl/~landsberger/ ; 2) Family photos, Beifan.com 3) 19th century men, Universty of Washington; Wiki Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2021


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