Pageants become big business on mainland

PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 December, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 05 December, 2008, 12:00am

Few people can recall the name or the face of the mainland's first beauty queen, who just seven years after the opening and reform of China took the Miss Canton title.

The contest, held in Guangzhou, was abandoned soon afterwards as the contest fell out of favour with conservative leaders.

But the idea was brought back to life two years later by a provincial television station as the Chinese public and leadership became more receptive to influences from abroad.

By the start of the 1990s, beauty pageants were becoming big business across the nation and organisers were profiting from expensive television advertisements.

In 2002, at least 10 beauty contests were held in Guangzhou, with many more in other cities. And, after Beijing's decision to officially participate in international beauty pageants in 2003, the contests increased in number and diversity. The elderly can take part in the Silver-Aged Beauty Contest, while Miss Artificial Beauty is open to those who have been under the plastic surgeon's knife and the Miss Ugly competition targets women who want to win 100,000 yuan (HK$113,000) in cosmetic surgery.

In 2004, the mainland hosted a number of major international beauty competitions, including Miss World, Miss Universe, Miss Asia, Miss Tourism Queen International and Miss Intercontinental. Since then, the final rounds of the Miss World contest have been hosted twice more by Sanya in tropical Hainan province . Sanya officials have spent US$26.5 million on bridges, roads and a 4,000-seat Beauty Crown theatre to ensure the competition keeps returning to their island.

The opportunity to promote the popular tourist destination is obvious - about 2 billion people across 146 countries watch the event on television.

Chinese beauty Zhang Zilin took the crown in the Miss World Pageant 2007. Her popularity at home and around the world has since skyrocketed. Now beauty contests seem quite acceptable to the mainland's young. They are seen as a good way for young women to show off their confidence and prove their independence.