BY SILVI WRITER
A “crisis of masculinity” is under hot debate in China, as the country is apparently concerned that its boys are becoming too effeminate.
At the centre of the debate, the question is what makes a man, referring to the male aesthetic, which is undergoing a change in China.
The government is trying to tackle the issue. But it’s never easy, as some people are benefiting from the rise of effeminate and exquisite men.
In the traditional sense, the 1976 Japanese thriller Manhunt starring the late Japanese actor Ken Takakura, helped form the ideal of manhood for Chinese, meaning a man should be strong, brave, resilient, and with sense of responsibility.
But today, this image is giving way to the so-called “little fresh meat”, men known for their flawless, boyish appearance, some of whom even wear make-up.
In short, the public is becoming increasingly worried that the rise of this group will bring about a loss of manhood and twisted gender identities.
The People’s Daily recently posted an article titled “What kind of gender temperament does society need—is the prevalence of yin a worry or a joy?” In ancient Chinese philosophy, the universe consists of yin and yang elements, with yin representing femininity, softness, and being more inward-looking, and yang representing maleness and strength.
Who benefit from the rise of the effeminate men?
Most netizens and the Chinese media have suggested that the changing male image in pop-culture is the main forces driving the trend.
They point out that the popularity of effeminate South Korean and Japanese actors and pop stars is a factor in the supposedly diminishing masculinity of Chinese youth.
“Compared to the 80s and 90s, now there are a lot more soft masculinities – pretty boy images and gentle male images – represented in media, and consumers welcome and widely consume them,” says Sun Jung, the author of Korean Masculinities and Transcultural Consumption, according to the BBC.
“Men in China and South East Asia tend to think that Korean men are the typical beauty,” says Lee Gung-min, a consultant to South Korean beauty companies.
But not all people would agree that such “crisis” exist. They suggest it’s a new form of manhood that is quietly looming.
“Men should take care of themselves, including their body and skin. What is wrong with investing a bit in skincare and improving the way you look?” BBSOXO Wang, a 30-something who works in the creative, told the Global Times.
Defenders may also include the whole beauty industry, some of the world’s leading cosmetics brands in particular, as they are benefiting from the rise of the “little fresh meat” and “exquisite men”.
Retail sales of the men’s beauty market in China will see nearly 7 percent growth in 2018, to reach about $2 billion, according to market data firm Euromonitor.
Overall, the global male grooming market is expected to hit $166 billion in sales by 2022, marking a compound annual growth rate of 5.4 percent from 2016, according to a report that year by US-based Allied Market Research.
According to the latest statistics released by VIPSHOP, a major online shopping platform in China, sales of beauty products in 2017 saw a dramatic growth of 66.7 percent over 2015 among men in their early 20s and younger, with facial masks being the most popular products. The popularity of blemish balm and lipsticks are also on the rise, with nearly 20 percent of young men purchasing them.
Last year, French cosmetic company L’Occitane experienced double-digit sales growth for all its cosmetics after using 28-year-old pop star Lu Han as its brand ambassador.
Lu rose to fame in 2011 when he was the Chinese member of popular South Korean boys band EXO, and his meticulously groomed, youthful, innocent image won him a large group of female fans.
In September, Chanel will launch its first makeup line for men in South Korea. Before that, cosmetic giants such as Estée Lauder, L’Oreal , and Clinique have spent a few years exploring skin-care lines, such as L’Oreal’s Men’s Expert and Clinique for Men, aimed specifically for men.
“Beauty is not a matter of gender, it is a matter of style,” said Chanel.
The entertainment industry and showbiz, where androgyny is accepted, are benefiting from this trend too.
Masculinity should not be judged by the use of make-up or how a man behaves or talks, “Poisoned Tongue”, a film reviewer whose posts are viewed by hundreds of thousands, said in a series of social media posts.
“Why should ‘effeminate’ be used in such a derogatory way? And who says the country could only be referred to as a ‘he’? What’s wrong with ‘she’?” the reviewer asked in one post.
“It’s an insult to some men and is even disrespectful to women.”
A peril to national security?
But the Chinese media, state-owned in particular, are more concerned than others. The crisis of masculinity in effeminate men is even considered a peril to national security.
Distinctive gender roles and strong manhood were considered crucial in safeguarding China’s national security by some leading state-own media outlets.
A recent opinion piece from the state news agency Xinhua took aim the group of effeminate men, decrying them as “androgynous” and complaining that “they are slender but weak as willows.”
“Young people are the future of the nation,” the article goes. “When nurturing the generation shouldering the responsibilities for national rejuvenation, we have to resist the invasion of bad culture.”
“We don’t need those slender but weak ‘little fresh meat’ on the battlefield in future,” the PLA Daily, the official news paper of the Chinese army, has said.
As early as 2011, the Study Daily, published by the Central Party School of the Chinese Communist Party, already argued that losing manhood about the country’s youth would cause the reduction of the PLA’s combat power.
The country’s policymakers have been trying to address the issue losing manhood among the young people.
In 2016, some schools in the commercial hub of Shanghai started using a textbook to help pupils cultivate masculinity.
The textbook, called “Little Men”, stresses that boys are usually expected to display masculine traits by appearing courageous and resolute.
It is tailored for the fourth and the fifth graders, or pupils aged 11 or 12, as it says on the cover.
The textbook also covers the differences between boys and girls, the importance of the father-son relationship as well as the importance of interacting with nature and managing money.
It encouraged boys to build strong bonds with their fathers, among other suggestions.
It has sparked nationwide discussions as critics argued that certain qualities, such as perseverance and independence, should not be regarded as solely male attributes.