Available in : Vietnamese
February 22, 2021
This month, the education ministry issued a notice with a title that left no doubt about its ultimate goal in response to a delegate of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, asking for more physical education as an antidote to the supposed “feminization of young men”. The delegate of China’s top advisory body suggested that Chinese schoolboys were “weak, self-effacing, and timid,” and maybe unduly influenced by so-called “little fresh meats” — handsome, well-groomed, delicate-featured celebrities in the vein of K-pop stars, describing the feminization of Chinese boys as “a threat to the development and survival of the nation.”
The ministry’s endorsement of the delegate’s proposal decided so in order to prevent the feminization of male adolescents and called the schools to fully reform their offerings on physical education and to strengthen their recruitment of teachers. The text advises recruiting retired athletes and people from sporting backgrounds – and “vigorously developing” particular sports like football with a view to “cultivate students’ masculinity”.
The ministry’s endorsement prompted an immediate backlash on microblogging platform Weibo, with netizens saying they felt appalled that the country’s top education authorities were being “openly sexist.” If the majority of Chinese reaction to the notice has been negative, a minority of netizens, agreed that Chinese boys should be manlier and more athletic. “Finally, the education ministry does something right,” wrote a Weibo user who claimed to be a teacher. “Boys now are in dire need of more exercise so they can be manlier. They’re too gentle these days.”
The comments pointed towards China’s male celebrities being to blame, largely those who are known as “little fresh meats”, a buzzword that refers to young, Chinese male icons who are seen as squeaky-clean, well-groomed, and with delicate features such as Boyband TF Boys and Chinese singer Lu Han.
There are 70 million more men than women in the country, no country in the world has such a deformed sex ratio. Isn’t that masculine enough?
Some earlier signs were suggesting such a move was coming, rekindling a fierce online debate about masculinity and traditional gender norms. Last May, a delegate of China’s top advisory body, Si Zefu, said that many of China’s young males had become “weak, timid, and self-abasing”. There was a trend among young Chinese males towards “feminization”, he claimed, which “would inevitably endanger the survival and development of the Chinese nation” unless it was “effectively managed”. Si Zefu said the home environment was partly to blame, with most Chinese boys being raised by their mothers or grandmothers, he also noted that the growing appeal of certain male celebrities meant that many children “did not want anymore to be ‘army heroes'”.
Chinese authorities have long been preoccupied with a looming “masculinity crisis” and proposed several solutions during these last years. Last year, an article published by the state-run Xinhua News Agency ignited debate on whether hiring more male teachers would result in boys becoming more masculine. In 2019, the popular Chinese video-streaming site iQiyi was criticized for blurring the earrings of male participants on a reality show. And in 2016, Sixth Tone wrote about the rising number of gender education programs purporting to teach boys how to act like men. Most recently, gym class has been touted as the silver bullet to ensure that boys grow into men. In September, the country’s top sports and education authorities announced that physical fitness would soon carry greater weight on the national high school entrance exam, while also suggesting that gym class should be considered as an addition to the national middle school core curriculum, alongside the usual academic subjects.
Today, the “little fresh meats” phenomenon continues to be a proven success, but young male celebrities come under increased scrutiny. These last years, media have struggled to allow young male stars to appear on Chinese screens with tattoos or earrings. One of China’s top pop stars came already under fierce criticism online already in 2019 when he was pictured smoking…
Available in : Vietnamese