Male pageant to showcase a new breed of heroes

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 May, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 May, 2004, 12:00am

Ten latter-day Lei Fengs will be selected for the 'Best Men in China' contest

At the end of last year, the first women's beauty pageants in more than half a century were held on the mainland. It was seen as a symbol of changing times.

Now, six months later, men are having their turn.

Pang Wei, the editor-in-chief of China's Esquire magazine, said his 'Best Men in China' contest offers much more than just the swimsuits and good looks championed by the women's contests.

'Our competition sets up lifestyle models for ordinary Chinese people to follow in modern society,' he said.

Following idols is nothing new to a nation that has spent the past 55 years being spoon-fed Communist Party propaganda.

'We had the model citizen Lei Feng decades ago,' said Mr Pang, referring to the idolised soldier who became a poster boy for do-gooders.

'He used every means possible to help others. But that's the past and now we need new icons suitable for a new China.

'They will be the heroes of the time. People will recognise these people and think if they follow their lifestyle they will have a good life. China is on course to produce a few of these heroes. But we are trying to leapfrog this and pick them out ahead of time,' Mr Pang said.

By the end of the year a panel of judges, together with the magazine's readers, will shortlist 10 latter-day Lei Fengs based on their elegance, intelligence, success and foresight.

At the end of last month the selection campaign started with 30 assorted businessmen, movie stars, artists, scientists and government officials put forward by judges.

With a list of candidates starting with establishment figures such as Commerce Minister Bo Xilai, and ending with popular culture heroes like Hong Kong movie star Tony Leung Chiu-wai, the only factor they all have in common is success.

Since Deng Xiaoping's reforms took hold in the late 1970s and the mainland's leadership steered it along a path of economic development, people have become more open about talking about their money and success - a no-no under both Confucianism and communism.

A look round any modern Chinese bookshop will reveal shelves full of best-sellers on how to make money, manage a workforce, plan finances, and the rags-to-riches profiles of self-made billionaires.

'Wealth is the premise of the best men - those who have accumulated huge social wealth, as well as a sizeable bank balance,' Mr Pang said.

Greater financial freedom and a toning down of party ideology have resulted in people feeling less of a need to be seen as worthy. The heroes of modern China are a different breed from the selfless model workers of the 1950s.

Though, Mr Pang maintains that his contest is not as spiritually empty and vacuous as some may suggest.

'By setting up these icons we hope to promote a set of values that contributes to society. A new philosophy on life is what we need most right now,' he said.