MEN IN CHINA: APARTMENTS, EXPOSED BELLIES AND MALE HANDBAGS

CHINESE MEN

20080225-men having a meal u wash.jpg
Men in the 19th century having a meal
Chinese men have a reputation for womanizing and drinking too much. They often treat women very rudely, often ordering them around, entering a room first, and rarely helping out around the house. Men often smoke and drink heavily because of the guanxi routine. Huang Minjie, a 24-year-old woman from a well-to-do family in southern China who was educated overseas, told the Strait Times: "Many Chinese men tend to smoke in public places, talk very loudly, and often jump the queue. Even those who receive university education or well-dressed people behave like that,' she said. 'I prefer some Europeans who are well mannered and chivalrous." [Source: Jason Ou, Straits Times, November 15, 2011]

Chinese men are not known for being well-dressed or suave. Describing one guy he knew, Peter Hessler wrote in The New Yorker, “Yuan wore a white tank top, khaki shorts, leather loafers, and black socks pulled up to his kneecaps. He carried a money bag in one hand and a dirty white towel in the other. He puffed in the heat; he used the towel to mop sweat off his neck.”

Men are regarded as the head of the household, the major decision-maker and major breadwinner. Their status and the standing of their family is determined by their success at the roles mentioned above. Village men have traditionally done the heavy chores such as plowing the fields, clearing the land, planting and harvesting, building homes, hunting, fishing, setting traps, cutting down trees. and doing work that requires the most strength while the women tended crops. Until recently most Chinese males were “hard and thin.” Now many urban dwellers have “boss bellies.”

Since the work of the village men is often concentrated into a few weeks they have a lot of free time, which is sometimes spent hanging around, gambling, making deals or seeking work outside the village Often, while women work the men spend much of the time in the tea houses chatting and playing card games and mah jong, or sitting around the radio or television tuned into soccer matches or the news. Many tea houses and even restaurants are male-only establishments.

See separate article on Families in China

Chinese Men in the Eyes of the Western Woman

On the image of Chinese men in the eyes of the Western woman, Professor Zhang Jie of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences concluded after two years of studies on this subject : The “male Chinese image is not sharp/vivid, and even sort negative, they're modest, but lack of manner/sportsmanship, hard-working but slightly short of confidence. [Source: Sin Chew Daily Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, January 23, 2009]

In the eyes of Western women, Chinese men's overall image is " the rural youth just entered college: they are self-motivated, thrifty, smart, but more out-of-date/old fashioned, and some do not pay attention to hygiene. Some lack self-confidence, afraid to face someone else's eyes.... Overall, the Western women believe that the only thing Chinese men defeated the Western man is "taking care of his families". Chinese men lost Western men in those places like : sexual attraction, independence, self-cultivation, and etiquette, sense of humor, romantic, degree of respect for women, creativity, courage, and fashion. ... In addition, the Chinese men are not clean enough, such as their nails are dirty, and spitting.

Unmarried Men in China and the Bride Shortage

Ninety percent of all unmarried people between 28 and 49 are male. Many are stigmatized as “bare branches that don’t bear fruit.” According to an article in the Global Times, China’s National Population and Family Planning Commission has found that problems such as forced prostitution, abductions and trafficking of women and childrest are highest in places where the sex ratio is skewed against men.

The shortage of men in China due to sex-selected abortions and other reasons theoretically makes it easier for women to be choosy and requires men to work harder. Chen Kiaomin, director of the Women’s Studies Center at the Shanghai University of Political Science and Law told the Times, “In the past people were introduced by relatives, or if they dated a date meant going to a park, Now you have to spend money in restaurants and cafes.”

In the richer coastal areas men look to the poorer west for brides. Brides are also sought in poorer neighboring countries like Myanmar, North Korea, Vietnam and even Russia.

Roseann Lake wrote in Foreign Policy: “It's a tough, competitive life for men in China these days, in part due to the aftershocks of the one-child policy, which has left the country with a gaping gender imbalance of 120 boys for every 100 girls. Author Mara Hvistendahl reports in her book, Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men, that by late 2020, 15 percent (or roughly one in six) Chinese men of marriageable age will be unable to find a bride. She predicts that China will see an increase in what's already happening in Taiwan and South Korea, where men doomed to bachelorhood as a result of gender imbalance are boarding planes to Vietnam. Roughly $10,000 covers their flight, room and board, and the price of a Vietnamese wife, according to Hvistendahl, and this practice has become so common that the imported wives "get a booklet translated into Vietnamese explaining their rights when they get married at the Taiwanese Consulate." [Source: Roseann Lake, Foreign Policy, September 28, 2012]

While the most disadvantaged are the country's poor male farmers, who now live at society's rock bottom in rural villages devoid of women their age (as females tend to leave in search of better jobs and marriage prospects), the marriage challenge is rippling its way up through the classes. It is manifested most clearly in China's real estate market, where -- given the highly desirable nature of property -- men are pouring all their savings as a means of improving their chances of finding Mrs. Right, or any Mrs. for that matter.

"Mathematically, they can't get married," says Zhang, referring to younger Chinese men and their double burden of financial demands and the shortage of available women to marry. In 1994, he moved out of his danwei to study for a Ph.D. at Cornell University in the United States. Today, he works as a senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington and as a professor at Peking University. Along with Columbia University economist Shang-Jin Wei, he has published several studies on China's economic growth, including one that shows how 30 to 48 percent (or $8 trillion worth) of the real estate appreciation in 35 major Chinese cities is directly correlated with China's sex-ratio imbalance and a man's need to acquire wealth (property) in order to attract a wife.

Looking for Brides on the Internet in China

Roseann Lake wrote in Foreign Policy: “Although instances of bride-buying and bride-napping are often reported in China, men are also turning to the web in the face of increasingly heavy competition to attract a mate. On China's mega microblogging website, Sina Weibo, a page called "Save a Single Police Officer" was created by the deputy director of a police station in Sichuan province to help his employees find a spouse. He feared that given the gender imbalance and the grueling work hours of his men, they would become guang gun, or "bare branches," a term usually used to describe men in China who cannot find a wife. [Source: Roseann Lake, Foreign Policy, September 28, 2012]

The page launched this February with the profiles of five police officers , including a strapping young man with a gun who goes by the name of "Cola427." Offering a mix of local news, weather reports, and the profiles of single officers (including some female ones) who have been added to the mix, the page now has more than 55,000 followers. This July, a post encouraged all citizens to rejoice because Cola427 (with over 6,000 followers of his own, age 29, measuring in at 1.78 meters and 70 kilos, had found the love of his life through the site.

Sensing the challenges faced by Chinese men in the dating and marriage departments, 29-year-old Vincent Qi is trying to make a difference. Born in China, he went to college in Britain and speaks English like an over-caffeinated grad student. Now in Beijing, he calls himself "The Lady Whisperer" and markets himself as an online guru on how to get women. Qi also teaches online classes on confidence-building, self-improvement, and how to be an all-around better man. He has over 4,000 followers on China's Weibo, and just three months since the online launch of his tuition-based school, he has attracted over 100 students -- all male, and all rather average. They include a motley mix of students, small-online-shop owners, and working professionals on various rungs of the career ladder. "Socially, we [Chinese men] need to be average," says Qi, stressing that "China is not a culture that values individuality." He is quick to add, however, that from a monetary perspective, it's highly preferable to be well above average. This creates a paradox for China's "average Zhou": how to be far enough above average to be respected, without exceeding the culturally enforced limitations of what is considered respectably above average?

One of Qi's students, 28-year-old Rodman Xie, thinks he is close to finding the answer. "I took the gaokao three times and still only managed to get into a very average university," he says. "By societal standards, I've failed at many things, but I've never stopped setting goals for myself, and that's what keeps me going." He admits that though things seemed easier in the days of the almighty work unit, he wouldn't trade that kind of stability for what he describes as "the diversity that contributes to a healthy society -- the sort of diversity that we're starting to have now."

A native of China's northeast, or Dongbei region, Xie works in marketing at an export company in Shanghai, a city that he admits wasn't his first choice, but where he moved for the opportunities. He describes the women there as "materialistic," but seems relatively unshaken by the doom and gloom of the gender imbalance. He explains that in addition to a whole lot of stress, the last 30 years in China -- his lifetime -- have also brought a whole new realm of possibilities. "We can change cities, change careers, pursue our interests, meet people from all over the world, and sometimes even travel to foreign countries," says Xie. "And for now, that kind of average is good enough for me."

Effects of the Bride Shortage and Competitive Economy on the Chinese Male

Roseann Lake wrote in Foreign Policy: “Berlin Fang, a columnist, literary translator, and associate director at the North Institute for Teaching and Learning at Oklahoma Christian University, argues that the demands of the marriage market and China's relatively new market economy are so heavy that "Chinese men have lost the ability to be average." Like Zhang, he recalls the days of the danwei with bittersweet nostalgia, as a time when people weren't so quick to size each other up in terms of their market value. There was a certain comfort and ease to being average, one that has become extinct, given the extreme competition to be one of the "haves." In such a densely populated country, Fang insists that "average is the new mediocre." [Source: Roseann Lake, Foreign Policy, September 28, 2012]

The distinction between "average" and "mediocre" is one that has been ticking on the Chinese national psyche, as indicated by one of the questions on last year's gaokao, China's notorious college entrance exam: “Please write on the theme of refusing to be mediocre and accepting to be average. People cannot be mediocre. Mediocrity means no creation, no development, no progress. Living in this world, we should not be mediocre. We should have principles, insights, and persistence. Write 800 words in any genre except poetry.”

Fang notes that the question was a source of heated debate, as there were concerns that today's students might not be able to distinguish between "mediocre" and "average." In a country where the social pressure to excel is so acute and mediocrity is rarely an option, Fang agrees that the question is knotty. He suspects it was designed to make students understand that it's acceptable to be average, so long as it's an aspirational average, not a feckless one.

Examples of responses that earned perfect scores can be found on Chinese news portal Sina.com that tells the story of Wang Xiaobo. Following a subpar performance at the office, Wang does not receive the bonus he was expecting. When, over a meal of freshly prepared fish, he reveals to his wife that he was denied his bonus, she, "putting down her chopsticks and losing color in her face," laments that she is destined to live a lowly life, having such a good-for-nothing husband. After nursing his woes with a bit of alcohol, Wang hands his life savings over to a shady investment banker and eventually loses everything. Naturally, he heads to a lake to commit suicide, but instead ends up saving a nearby drowning woman. This good deed restores his honor, and he eventually becomes the hardworking, well-earning man whom his wife wants him to be.

While Wang's story certainly reflects a triumph over mediocrity, the fact that his wife's well-being is so dependent on his financial performance, and that Wang is so clearly depicted as her provider, reflects how ingrained these ideas remain in modern Chinese society. Yet because it's nearly economically impossible for most Chinese men---average or otherwise--- to be the providers they aspire to be, they frequently have to rely on their parents for financial support. This is a slippery slope, as it often gives progenitors more control than warranted over their son's choice of a partner, but Chinese parents -- keen to have their sons dutifully snuggled into wedlock -- gladly chip in. Zhang and Wei's study shows how this plays into China's household savings rate, which at 30 percent is among the world's highest. They argue that this fact is of particular economic concern, as the high marriage-related savings rate contributes to China's current account surplus, which in turn drives down China's exchange rate and perpetuates the global trade imbalance. "It's completely unsustainable," says Zhang, arguing that the exact opposite -- less saving, more spending -- is what China's economy needs to keep afloat. But because men need to buy homes, they save. And because their demand for homes drives up real estate property, everyone else must save too, in order to keep up.

Changes in the Housing Market in China and Its Affect on the Chinese Male

Roseann Lake wrote in Foreign Policy: “When Xiaobo Zhang got married in the early 1990s, he and his bride, like millions of other couples across China, were given a small room to live in by his danwei, or work unit. At the time a lecturer at Nankai University in Tianjin, Zhang's room was utilitarian and unremarkable, virtually indistinguishable from the ones inhabited by his colleagues. In a word: average. [Source: Roseann Lake, Foreign Policy, September 28, 2012]

In the China of the 1990s, which was characterized by a pubescent limbo between the economic reforms of the 1980s and the last decade's explosive growth, Zhang recalls that mostly everyone was average. People were neatly packed into work units, generally laboring under the same conditions, eating in the same canteens, and sleeping in the same blocks of industrial-looking housing provided by their employers. There was little disparity in salaries, and few cars and luxury handbags to spend those salaries on.

During these times, Zhang explained, occupants paid minimal rent for their work-unit housing -- which was issued based on seniority, family size, and rank -- and could essentially stay in it forever. There was no legal market for buying and selling property in China, even in rural areas without employer-provided housing, where families built their own homes.

Then, in 1998, the Chinese real estate market was born. It began with a decision by the Chinese State Council to monetize housing in an attempt to develop a commercial private market for real estate. In other words, instead of just providing apartments for lifetime occupancy, companies, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies began to give their employees the option to purchase the housing they lived in. Fourteen years and a serious housing construction boom later, China's property market has allowed for one of the world's largest accumulations of real estate wealth in history, valued at $17 trillion in mid-2010 by HSBC Global Research and worth some 3.27 times China's GDP. (To better understand the scope of the construction boom that precipitated this massive accumulation of wealth, it's worth noting that between 1998 and 2008 alone, 14.4 billion square meters of residential housing space were constructed in China, according to China Statistical Yearbook figures. That's equivalent to 160 times all the residential space on the entire island of Manhattan.)

This is where the definition of "average" in China starts to go a little wonky. As a result of the real estate boom, reports in Chinese media indicate that the average property in a top-tier Chinese city now costs between 15 and 20 times the average annual salary, though J.P. Morgan reports indicate something closer to 13. (For purposes of comparison, in most of the world's cities, the housing-cost-to-income ratio hovers between 3-to-1 and 6-to-1, rounding out at about 3-to-1. This is especially problematic in China, where thanks to still-prevalent Confucian ideals of the male as the "provider," home ownership has become an unspoken prerequisite to marriage.

Housing in China and the Mother-in-Law Syndrome

Roseann Lake wrote in Foreign Policy: “"Mother-in-law syndrome"---the idea that Chinese mothers-in-law are driving up the price of real estate by refusing to allow their daughters to marry men who are not homeowners---has been widely reported in China, but Zhang and Wei take things a step further. They show how Chinese cities with the highest ratio of men to women are also consistently the ones with the highest percentages of real estate appreciation, which follows the logic that fewer women means more competition among men and a greater need for a flashy house. At the same time, rental prices in these cities have increased minimally by comparison, lending credence to the theory that the rise in real estate prices is not driven by an actual demand for housing, but by the demand to own a house. [Source: Roseann Lake, Foreign Policy, September 28, 2012]

This demand has no doubt contributed to fears over China's housing bubble, which has been the source of concerned speculation now that China's economic growth has slowed to 7.6 percent, the lowest since 2009. A recent IMF publication shows how a decline in the Chinese real estate market could do everything from affect the price of zinc and nickel to trigger a trade slowdown with South Korea, Japan, and other G-20 partners. Yet from the marriage-market perspective, the demand for property appears unrelenting.

On a more recent trip to China, Zhang landed in the southwestern city of Guizhou with a colleague from an Ohio university who was puzzled to find himself in what appeared to be an entire village full of churches. As it turns out, in addition to phantom third stories, owners are competing to add height to their homes by upping the size of the lightning rods on their rooftops. And the bigger they get, the more they look like crosses.

The most alarming thing about these budding basilicas may be that the majority of them remain empty. After they are used to bait prospective wives, the newlyweds often migrate to larger cities. Zhang says this is known as the "two-rat" phenomenon, as it refers to the migrant couples who live inurban, underground rented rooms like rats -- and, yes, sometimes also with rats -- while their large, rural houses are left vacant. This phenomenon begins to explain why there are some 64.5 million empty houses in China, according to economist Yi Xianrong of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Women Want a Man with an Apartment

Marriage Market Survey in China---a survey of 32,000 people in 2010 by the All-China Women’s Federation---revealed that 70 percent of single woman would not consider marrying a man unless he already possessed a home. Roseann Lake wrote in Foreign Policy: “It is culturally approved -- even expected -- for a woman to "free-ride" and move into her husband's house without making any contributions to it, but given the astronomical cost of housing, more women are helping to cover costs too. Doctoral research by Leta Hong Fincher of Tsinghua University focuses on Chinese women who are pitching in, if not shouldering, the joint purchase of a home with their husbands. She points out that this may work to their disadvantage down the road. Due to traditional, yet increasingly improbable, ideals of the man as the sole provider, homes are generally registered under a man's name. According to Chinese law, property belongs only to the person whose name it is registered under, so in the event of a divorce, women who are not listed as co-owners will lose out on financial contributions to their former marital home. Fincher also cites instances in which young women are hassled by parents into transferring their life's savings to a bachelor relative, so he can use the money to buy a house and increase his chances of finding a wife. Because it is assumed that a woman will marry into a house, the logic goes that she has a less pressing need for savings of her own. [Source: Roseann Lake, Foreign Policy, September 28, 2012]

On the other hand, women who are homeowners before marriage are considered better off, and this can actually improve their chances of "marrying up" into the echelons of moneyed men who have bigger houses than they do. Jeannie Wang, 29, of Beijing, is one of those women. Well-employed at a major auditing firm, she purchased an apartment as an investment and plans to live at home with her parents until marriage. "Ideally, I would like a man to also have a house of his own, or at least the earning potential so that we can buy one together," she says, slightly concerned that having a man move into her house would humiliate him. "I wouldn't mind so much if I really cared for him, but it's something I think few Chinese men would go for."

Her case illustrates the double-edged nature of female property ownership in China. Own something, and it might allow you to marry someone with something bigger. Own something too big, and it could intimidate potential suitors. For men, however, bigger is always better. Zhang recalls visiting villages in China that were bedizened with a "phantom third story." This type of construction refers to a two-story house with an unfurnished, unfinished third story built to make the house appear more grandiose from the outside. The trend has taken off in neighborhoods where the competition for a wife is particularly fierce; in some areas, it has become mainstream to the extent that matchmakers won't schedule an appointment with a man's family unless his house has the requisite phantom floor.

Wei and Zhang estimate that the pressure to accumulate wealth for marriage is responsible for 20 percent of the growth of the Chinese economy, as men scramble to start businesses and secure high-paying jobs in order to keep up with expenses. The word fangnu is an example of their struggle. Literally translated, it means "a slave to the home" and refers not to a woman who is a slave to housework, but in most cases, to a man who must slave at his job in order to afford a house and, by extension, a wife.

Chinese “Eagle Dad"

Describing a Chinese father who seemed to ascribe by the Marine Corp. school of childrearing, Leo Lewis wrote in The Times: “Unsatisfied with making his sobbing four-year-old perform press-ups in the snow, having him jog through the frozen streets of New York in his underpants and casting the boy adrift at sea on a tiny yacht, He Liesheng, China's self-styled "Eagle Dad", decided to take his brutal parenting to the next level. [Source: Leo Lewis, The Times, October 11, 2012]

His scheme, to force his son, Duoduo, to scale Mount Fuji, unfurl a banner claiming Chinese sovereignty of the disputed Senkaku (Diaoyu) islands and lap up more plaudits as the world's most hare-brained disciplinarian, was to be his masterstroke. However, instead of demonstrating Duoduo's resilience, the climb revealed Eagle Dad's monumental failure as a strategist. Despite gale warnings and being told the climbing season was over, Mr He set off anyway with Duoduo and the boy's older sister, only to realise that "unlike a lot of Chinese mountains, Mount Fuji does not have steps".

With several hours' climbing still to go and Duoduo suffering altitude sickness, Eagle Dad eventually accepted defeat at 3400m. Duoduo had just enough strength to unfurl the banner that read: "The Diaoyu Islands belong to China, I want to land on the Diaoyu islands!" before rescuers gave him some gloves and warm clothes and he joined his sister and Eagle Dad for the descent.

Chinese Men Experience Pain of Childbirth

In November 2014, Natalie Thomas of Reuters wrote: “A hospital in eastern China is offering fathers-to-be a chance to experience the pain of childbirth after several new moms complained they got little sympathy from their partners. Free sessions are held twice a week at Aima maternity hospital in Shandong province and about 100 men have signed up to be tortured. Most are expectant dads but there are thrill seekers too among the volunteers for "taster sessions". For the simulations, pads attached to a device are placed above the abdomen, giving electric shocks that induce pain. The test subjects writhe in agony for up to five minutes as a nurse gradually raises the intensity on a scale of one to ten. [Source: Natalie Thomas, Reuters, November 21, 2014 |::|]

“Song Siling, who is trying for a baby with his girlfriend, shut his eyes and grimaced as the needle on the electrode monitor inched forward with a beep. "It felt like my heart and lungs were being ripped apart," said Song, who made it to level seven before frantically waving to the nurse to turn off the system. Others dropped out within minutes when they couldn't take the pain. Wu Jianlong, who braved the pain right up to level 10, says the experience radically altered his views on childbirth. "Because all women have children and it usually takes quite a long time, I had thought of it as being something really natural, something really normal that they can get through," he said. Wu, whose wife is three months pregnant, yelled in pain and clenched his fists before giving in and begging the nurse to stop - he had reached the maximum limit by then. |::|

“Despite their obvious discomfort, the on-duty nurse said the simulations could never match the torment of actual childbirth. "Still, if men can experience this pain, then they'll be more loving and caring to their wives," said Lou Dezhu. Unlike in the West, Chinese men are often not in the room when their partners or wives give birth. Some state-run hospitals do not allow expectant dads to enter, even if they want to.” |::|

Pulled Up Shirts and Exposed Bellies in China

On hot summer days in Beijing and other places, it is a common sight to see men running around without shirts or with their shirts rolled up under their armpits exposing their bellies. They hang around, play cards, drink tea, stroll on the sidewalks without their shirts, exposing their less than ideal bodies. Flabby tummies and spares tires are the norm, not rippling abs. They also like to pull up their trousers past their belly button, with the legs rolled up. One Chinese academic told the Los Angeles Times, “Foreigners who visit always ask why are there so many half-naked men in Beijing."

Chinese men expose their bellies to the air as a means of cooling themselves. Some also hike up their pant’s legs. Even though men from a wide range of ages engage in the custom those that do it are smirkingly known as bang ye (“exposing grandfathers”). One man spotted with his flabby tummy exposed told the Los Angeles Times, “I don’t know, it just feels cooler. Look, you just shake your shirt to create breeze.” [Source:John Glionna, Los Angeles Times, August 2010]

Many younger, more sophisticated Chinese don’t like th custom. A man who works at department store in told the Los Angeles Times, “It lower’s Beijing’s standing as an international city. If my dad reaches for his shirt when I’m out with him, I threaten to go home. It’s just so embarrassing.” The habit is actually a sort of compromise to the custom of men going totally shirtless. A Chinese medicine doctor told the Los Angeles Times, “People chose to expose their belly because they feel so hot in summer but feel embarrassed to take off their shirts completely.”

Authorities began to crack down on the no-shirt habit during the pre-Olympic run up. During that campaign the Beijing Truth Daily ran pictures of men who went around shirtless, often with less than attractive upper bodies, in an effort to shame them into dressing respectfully.

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.” [Source:Pascale Trouillaud, AFP, March 4, 2011]

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.

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.”

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!”

“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.”

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.” [Source: David Pierson, Los Angeles Times, February 07, 2011]

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.”

History of Male Handbags in China

“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."

Male Designer Handbag Market

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."

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 July 2015


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