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Masculinity in China

Chinese military-themed action movie “Wolf Warrior 2” received much attention and positive reviews after it was released in China and oversea markets including Australia and the US in August 2017. “Wolf Warriors 2” was the top film at the worldwide box office over the weekend. Why has “Wolf Warrior 2” gained so much popularity? The fierce actions, intriguing story, and characters different in personalities are all reasons for its success. Leng Feng, a soldier serving for China’s Special Forces, is a tough man who is very different from those handsome young men frequently seen on the screen.

Mulan is the heroine of the old Chinese folktale about gender identities, a woman disguised as a man. In Imperial China, Hua Mulan is an adventurous and active girl, to the disappointment of her parents, who hopes that one day she will be wed to a good husband. Mulan learns that her weakened and lame father, as he has no sons, is to be called up into the army in order to fight the invading Huns. Knowing that he would never survive the rigors of war in his state, she decides to disguise herself and join in his place. After many adventures and mis-adventures, she frees the Emperor, who offers to let her join his personal guard. She declines the offer and returns to her village. Disney could have told its classic story with greater depth, but the live-action Mulan [2020] is a visual marvel that serves as a stirring update to its animated predecessor [1998].

The impression of the definition of gender has been present since ancient times, as with the familiar saying: "The new year is here, girls want flowers, boys want guns." There are also the so-called "men dominate the outside and women dominate the inside", etc., which show the stereotypes of women and men. The development of aesthetic modernity has broadened the aesthetic field of men and male character in a formerly traditional culture.

In 2018 a debate was sparked about whether Chinese men are becoming feminine. On September 1, 2018, four male celebrities performed in a television special First Class of the New Semester that was aired by CCTV and were termed by Chinese Net users as "effeminate" because of their delicate appearance and feminine behavior.

The media showed concern with writers saying that the younger generation is losing masculine qualities, thereby popularizing abnormal aesthetic preferences in society. However, many don't take exception to this practice, arguing that it should be left to the man's free choice. Though the entertainment industry has been heavily criticized for training and promoting male stars with girlish faces, it is actually the audience that drives the market demand.

Gone are the days of tough guys like Hong Kong martial arts movie stars Jackie Chan and Jet Li as the audience is losing interest in their machismo-laden acts. Even Wu Jing, actor and director of the 2017 popular action film Wolf Warrior 2, has been often criticized for male chauvinism, or to quote a Chinese buzzword - "straight man cancer."

Chinese women had dramatically changed their preference for their favored types in decades, altering their like for macho figures to those with gentler looks and softer faces. According to neuroaesthetics, this change has come about because of rapid economic growth and stable social environment. In the animal kingdom, males with exaggerated masculine traits are considered more in demand for love, like the showy plumage of a bird or the puffed-up chest of a gorilla, which is called "sex dimorphism."

But for human beings, a much more civilized species, sex dimorphism is not a decisive factor. According to research by psychologist David Perrett, women normally like masculine traits to be balanced out by feminine features, otherwise a man would be considered too imperious, haughty or even disloyal to be loved.

Xiaoxianrou (little fresh meat in Chinese) refers to young and good-looking male celebrities while niangpao is a derogatory term for "girlish male". The article titled "Do you know how hard CIA tried to make you adore niangpao (a derogatory term for girlish male)?" went viral on Chinese social media on 20 October 2019 after it was posted on a Sina Weibo account called sixianghuoju (the torch of thought), which was allegedly opened by the National Cultural Security and Ideology Research Center under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Heated discussion over xiaoxianrou resurfaced on Chinese social media platforms alleging Asian people favoring feminine-looking males was a conspiracy from the US to reduce Asian men's masculinity.

The call for an end to male stars who are seen as too "feminine" was on the rise in China in 2021. The account of Chinese male blogger Feng Xiaoyi was removed from Douyin, the Chinese version TikTok, om 24 August 2021 after numerous netizens commented that his videos were too "feminine" and lacked of "masculinity." Many Chinese netizens commented that they felt "uncomfortable" after watching the video, and some mocked that the blogger for not being masculine and called for the platform to ban his account to correct what they called the "unhealthy feminine male culture."

Also on 24 August 2021, the China Federation of Literary and Art Workers Professional Ethics Committee held a forum in Beijing that also criticized what it called "unhealthy fan culture" including stars that it deems have a more "feminine" image. At the symposium, the representatives of celebrities argued that some distorted values and behavior have appeared in the Chinese entertainment industry and that the stars responsible for this behavior have violated the law, the public order and professional ethics. Among these, it was said, a tumultuous fandom culture and a "feminine male image" have made a bad aesthetic influence on society.

"China's feminine male culture is somewhat influenced by Japan's Otokonoko [male daughter] culture and South Korea's 'pretty' boy bands. If public opinion praises the masculinization of women and the feminization of men, this represents a decline in male authority," Shi Wenxue, a culture critic based in Beijing, told the Global Times on 25 August 2021. "But according to the current public opinion, which is dominated by a call for masculine men, it is understandable that the industry would be heading in this direction," he added.

The Party's plan to "encourage masculinity" in male students singled out boys who don't fit traditional Chinese ideas of masculinity. In recent years, the entertainment industry has become popular for beautiful males, and the girly style is popular, with light makeup, long hair, and neutral clothing. Later, the development of this trend quickly caught people off guard. This is what the CPPCC members worry about in their motion. The "Proposal on Preventing the Feminization of Male and Adolescents" Proposal No. 4404 (Education No. 410) at the Third Session of the Thirteenth National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference by the Ministry of Education.

The "Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference" is an organization of the Chinese People's Patriotic United Front and an important institution for multi-party cooperation and political consultation under the leadership of the Communist Party of China. "CPPCC proposals" are written opinions and suggestions submitted to the CPPCC plenary meeting or standing committee by democratic parties, groups and members of the CPPCC participating in the CPPCC.

In May 2020, Szefu, a member of the Standing Committee of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, stated in the proposal of "Focusing on and Preventing the "Feminization" Trend of Male Youth", he found through observation that Chinese youths are weak, had low self-esteem, and were timid. "Meat"-style "cream niche", he called the boy "feminine". Szefu believes that the "feminization" trend of Chinese youth, if not effectively managed, will inevitably endanger the survival and development of the Chinese nation.

This controversial proposal was proposed by the CPPCC and has nothing to do with the Ministry of Education. The Ministry of Education only responded. On 28 January 2021, the Ministry of Education of China posted its answer to the "Proposal on Preventing the Feminization of Male Adolescents" put forward by the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference. The Ministry of Education's reply [actually dated 08 December 2020] to the "Proposal on Preventing the Feminization of Male Adolescents" triggered extensive discussions. In the reply, the Ministry of Education proposed that changes will be made in four aspects: strengthening the allocation of physical education teachers, strengthening the top-level design of the school physical education system, in-depth health education and intensifying research on related issues, and pay more attention to the cultivation of students’ masculinity.

Many schools had carried out teaching practices to enhance boys’ “masculinity”. For example, in 2016, the New Town Junior High School of Nanjing South Normal University Affiliated to Nanjing opened a "boys education activity class", including physical training courses, team development and other courses; in 2018, Shanghai Education Publishing House launched the first domestic book tailored for primary school boys. The gender education textbook "Little Men" focuses on the healthy growth of boys. However, can increased physical exercise alleviate the phenomenon of "feminization of male adolescents"?

During the "Thirteenth Five-Year Plan" period, the Ministry of Education's Humanities and Social Research Project set up "The influence of the phenomenon of 'Internet celebrities' on the values of adolescents and countermeasures" "Empirical research on the impact of residential segmentation on the development of adolescents from the perspective of urbanization" "Family "Research on the Display of Educational Function and the Construction of Adolescents' Spiritual Homeland".

The Ministry of Education thoroughly studied and implemented Xi Jinping’s thoughts on socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new era. In accordance with the requirements of the "National Medium and Long-term Education Reform and Development Plan (2010-2020)" Incorporate into various work systems. In 2014, the "Notice of the Ministry of Education on Issuing the "Measures for Monitoring and Evaluation of Students' Physical Fitness" and other three documents (Jiaotiyi [2014] No. 3) improved the evaluation mechanism of school sports. Except for students who are exempt from physical education, those who do not meet the physical fitness standards shall not be issued a graduation certificate.

The Ministry of Education attached great importance to strengthening the allocation of physical education teachers, and instructed all localities to make efforts to consolidate stocks, increase increments, improve quality, etc., coordinate and integrate resources, and take multiple measures to equip the team of physical education teachers. The "Management Measures for Part-time Sports and Aesthetic Education Teachers" was promulgated to encourage retired athletes and volunteers with sports expertise to serve as physical education teachers, and comprehensively improve the ability and quality of part-time teachers.

The "Proposal on Preventing the Feminization of Male and Adolescents" angered some groups. Although the Ministry of Education's response avoided "gender", it did not point out or criticize the problems in the proposal, and the content of the response seemed to agree with this. On the viewpoint of the proposal, the Ministry of Education only listed specific measures and responded on the basis of agreeing to the proposal. In this case, the four words "masculinity" are the only words that can be associated with "gender" in the full text.

In response, on 29 January 2021 Wu Lijuan, an associate professor in the Department of Sociology at Peking University, said in an interview with China News Weekly that from a psychological point of view, quite a few people have gender temperaments, and no one is completely male or female. In addition, from the perspective of sociology, people with gender temperament in certain fields are more likely to succeed.

In the proposal, Szefu believes that the cause of the "feminization" of Chinese male adolescents is very complicated, and it may be a concomitant phenomenon of "spoiledness" under the one-child policy. Szefu said that the "maternal line" that men have the most contact with since birth, spend the most time with their mothers after birth, and later they were brought up by their grandmothers and lived in the "mother-in-law" environment for a long time. In terms of the educational environment, after children enter school, most of the teachers are women, and they have been greatly influenced by women for a long time, making the boys lack of "masculinity."

Szefu believes that the problem of the "feminization" of Chinese male youth should be solved from the construction of the teaching team, greatly increase the construction of the male physical education teacher team, and increase the influence of "masculine" roles models. In addition, it is necessary to study social issues. The current "matriarchalization" of the boys' living environment in China is becoming more and more serious, and it has become a social issue.

Chinese authorities on 02 September 2021 enhanced management of entertainment programs and related personnel, calling for boycotts against individuals with records of illegal or immoral behaviors, as well as sky-high payments for stars and abnormal appreciation of niangpao, or feminine men. Experts said the unprecedented forceful actions of the cyberspace, TV and culture authorities targeting the entertainment industry showed the country's firm determination to clean up chaos in the sector.

Chu Zhaohui, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Educational Sciences, believes that the phenomenon of "feminization" of male adolescents does exist. The reason for the existence of this phenomenon is related to the increase in the number of women and the decrease of men in contact with male adolescents, which will have a direct impact on the gender characteristics of boys. "This change is definitely beyond the normal range. Under normal circumstances, boys are boys and girls are girls."

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Page last modified: 06-09-2021 15:12:52 ZULU