It’s 2021 and China has just banned “sissy men” on television. According to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), celebrities need to conform to a “correct beauty standard”. It’s not by any means one that embraces effeminate men. It forbids the use of heavy makeup on both women and men, and specifies masculinity inline with traditional Chinese culture. No wildly coloured hair, accessories or androgyny need apply here.
If you’re wondering what the idea of effeminate men is, a number of mainstream media outlets like South China Morning Post have used images of BTS members to accompany their reporting. It’s no stretch to say the Bangtan Boys and other similar east Asian pop idols are exactly who the CCP have in mind with such pointed remarks.
That’s not the only recent rule that has been introduced though. The CCP is cracking down on other aspects of the entertainment industry some of which include the regulation of idol fan clubs, a ban on celebrities flaunting their wealth, a call for entertainers to display role model behaviour, and strict punishment for tax evasion.
To understand what’s prompting this sweeping clampdown on effeminate men, we first need to recall the foundations of which China is built upon.
China blends traditional and socialist values
Confucius may be a punchline for bad jokes in this day and age. But the belief system by the ancient Chinese philosopher is the foundation of many East Asian cultures and one beloved by President Xi Jinping.
In a nutshell, Confucianism stresses good moral character via adopting virtues like respect, altruism, and loyalty. What is prized is social harmony. Every individual has a role in society and strong deference to rulers, be it the father at home or the party in power. The idea lends itself nicely to the aspects of China’s communist principles that preaches a shared moral code and supposed equality among social classes.
The entertainment industry has long been an anomaly to the rule with its highly-paid entertainers and toxic fan culture. In May 2021, a viral video of citizens dumping milk into sewers was revealed to have been the result of a reality show’s marketing campaign. Fans could gain extra votes via scanning QR codes inside the caps of bottled milk, a sponsor of the show. Buy, then chuck them, they responded en masse.
There’s no crying over spilled milk, but in China, where the Nikkei reports an ever growing urban-rural wage gap despite nationwide modernisation, a video of such excessive wastage raises eyebrows about this purported notion of social harmony amongst the haves and the many have-nots.
With 2021 being the 100th anniversary of the CCP, it seems like there’s no better time to remind its citizens what the law is. And the entertainment industry is just one of many that has faced similar regulation and crackdowns this year.
Facing the wrath of the Chinese Communist Party
To be blacklisted in China is akin to a Thanos-like finger snap from the CCP. It pretty much blips you out from existence. Chinese actress Fan Bingbing faced a similar fate in 2019 after being found guilty of tax evasion. Jackie Chan’s son, Jaycee Chan, has continued to lay low after being caught with drugs in 2014.
Due to the sweeping powers of the CCP, sometimes it isn’t even clear why they’ve blacklisted someone. Actress Zhao Wei disappeared from the Chinese internet and the public eye. She has not being charged for any wrongdoing either. Reports hint that the mystery of her blacklist is due to something worse than tax evasion and possibly related to her friendship with Jack Ma, the tech genius who also ran afoul of the Chinese government.
When it comes to the CCP, it’s better to toe the line rather than try to precariously balance on it. iQiyi, the platform responsible for the milk-dumping scandal, has scrapped all idol competitions after the release of the eight-point note.
China’s future seems heavily regulated and sanitised
As the second largest economy in the world, China’s rise to the top is undeniable. This is even some regard it with suspicion. While the collective world has been trying to be more inclusive in navigating cultural and gender politics, China has not only put their foot down but ground it deep in the ground.
How you react to China flexing their dominance isn’t a simple case of right or wrong. The news of regulating toxic fan behaviour feels welcomed in light of online abuse and doxxing, or the headlines of fans donating money to bail out star Kris Wu, detained on a rape charge. For anyone over the hedonistic lifestyles of influencers and stars, this feels like a rule that the world should adopt.
Comments on alternative news portals hypothesise that this clampdown is the act of a nervous CCP. They hope to remove threats to their power. With neighbour South Korea winning the cultural war, this could be a preemptive move to regain control of their spread.
Loyalty is the key to creating mass change. If one can harness the large numbers and chaotic loyalty of fan clubs to troll attendance at a Donald Trump’s political rally, who’s to say what will happen should they decide to rebel against the CCP? Therefore, why not ban the pop stars who not only remind fans about the massive income disparity, but can be the catalyst to a counterculture.
So, should there be a ban on effeminate men?
If history has taught us anything, rules aren’t a surefire way to control youths. Sooner or later, oppressive state media or not, they will come to their own conclusion and beliefs.
What is indisputable though, is that the ban feels extremely cruel with the rise of 4K video resolution. With hi-def clarity bring able to pick up even the most minute of flaws, men, women, and presidents alike should have access to the liberal use of makeup.