Are China’s young celebrities facing a masculinity crisis, or just setting a new aesthetic standard?

Women’s group joins debate over the changing face of nation’s young pop stars and what it really takes to make a man

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 September, 2018, 11:01am
UPDATED : Monday, 10 September, 2018, 10:10pm

A Chinese women’s rights group has come to the defence of a group of young male singers branded “sissies” by one branch of state media, publishing an article arguing that diverse standards of masculinity should be respected.

The trend for male celebrities across Asia to adopt a softer, more androgynous physical appearance – and how that look is perceived by society – has been hotly debated by Chinese state media since four, fresh-faced young singers featured in a back-to-school television special that aired on September 1.

Guan Hong, Wang Hedi, Wu Xize and Liang Jingkang – known collectively as New F4 – had all shone in a television talent competition earlier in the year and appeared in the special, broadcast by China Central Television, alongside other “inspiring” celebrities such as movie star Jackie Chan, education entrepreneur Yu Minhong, photographer Xie Hailong and aircraft designer Wu Guanghui.

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While the quartet’s (physical) appearance on the show prompted Xinhua to describe them as “sissies” in a report on its website, Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily took a more open-minded view.

The latter was echoed by China Women’s Daily – published by the official All-China Women’s Federation – which said in a report on Sunday headlined “Respect diversity in aesthetic standards and shape the sunshine quality” that people should not be defined by how they look.

“No matter what kind of persona style or quality he or she chooses to present, whether it is strong-willed or gentle, that doesn’t stop them from being an excellent person,” the article said.

The changing appearance of male celebrities was partly a result of a prosperous society, in which traditional two-dimensional concepts of masculinity and femininity had been transformed into a more diversified aesthetic standard, which was based not just on a person’s appearances but also their inner qualities, it said.

It also criticised the use of derogatory terms like “sissy” that failed to respect individual choices and did little to foster social inclusion.

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While defending celebrities’ right to sport whatever look they choose, the report said they should nevertheless set a “bright and positive” example.

As public figures with great influence on young people, they should “discipline themselves to a higher moral standard … to set a healthy, bright, positive and brave example to young people, rather than being a simple idol without deep character”.

The public debate over the changing face of masculinity was sparked by a harshly worded commentary published on Xinhua’s website on Thursday, which described the popularity of “being sissy” as a “morbid culture” that would have an “immeasurably negative impact” on the younger generation.

In a retort published just hours later, People’s Daily lambasted the news agency’s use of the word “sissy”, and said that “modern society has broadened the arena of aesthetic standards” and “provides more diversified living styles” and “more facets to masculinity”.

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The debate has been equally heated on social media, with many parents questioning the suitability of celebrities like New F4 as role models for their children.

Some internet users have even gone so far as to say that China is facing a “crisis of masculinity” and that men are embracing socially regressive stances to prove their manhood in response to the massive gender imbalance caused by decades of strict birth control policies.