Popularity of feminine looking male celebrities sparks controversy in China

Zhu Zhengting Photo: Sina Weibo

The appearance of male celebrities with feminine looks on the First Class for New Semester, a must-watch program jointly produced by China Central Television (CCTV) and the Ministry of Education (MOE) for parents and students on the first day of the fall semester, has recently sparked another round of heated discussion of "Little Fresh Meat", a term used to refer to young good-looking men.

The Xinhua News Agency on Thursday published an Internet article on its WeChat official account platform deriding the attention given to Little Fresh Meat, saying that "this sick culture is exerting an enormously adverse impact on teenagers."

These "sissy pants" men are described in the commentary as those who use cosmetics, have slender frames, and exclaim things like "Aww, you!" or "You scared poor little me!"

As to how this specific archetype became so widespread in film and television, Xinhua blames the entertainment industry's unbridled lust for money.

"Some films, television programs, online platforms, and reality shows deliberately appeal to audiences' vulgar tastes, profiting from these assorted 'weirdos,'" said the commentary.

"If men are behaving in this way, China will never become the strong and prosperous country it hopes to be. To nurture those who will shoulder the job of helping our nation reach its renaissance, we must shield them from undesirable cultural influences," concluded the commentary.

The People's Daily, a mouthpiece of the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC), also rebuked the trend in an article on Thursday night.

"We disagree with the derogatory remarks 'sissy pants' and 'not man, also not woman,'" said the article, adding that "a man's strength should be judged on the basis of their inner qualities - not their physical appearance."

The newspaper also urged the Little Fresh Meat to present positive images to teenagers.

In an article on its WeChat official account, The Beijing News on Sunday urged the public to respect the lifestyle of non-mainstream groups and described the act of suggesting "sissy pants" to use makeup secretly and not to appear in public as an invisible discrimination.

Chinese netizens also had heated discussions on the Little Fresh Meat on China's Twitter-like Sina Weibo.

"Why would a man look like that? Why does a man need to wear make-up? I think men should be masculine and look strong rather than be addictive to cosmetics. 'Sissy pants' really make me feel uncomfortable, and might affect the healthy growth of teenagers. Maybe they should disappear from the public eye if they choose to adhere to their sick lifestyle," one Web user nicknamed L said.

"I am shocked by Chinese society's intolerance after reading netizens' comments. I think we should respect the lifestyle of non-mainstream groups as we attempt to build a diversified community," another Web user nicknamed Happy Prince said.

In China, due to a number of factors, including a global trend of men caring more about their appearance and the influence of the delicate, feminine K-pop aesthetic on young Chinese celebrities, young men have become more appearance-conscious, and men's beauty products are gaining growing popularity in the country.

Many believe that those boys are physically and emotionally weak, leading to what is being called a "crisis of masculinity."

Some commentators even suggest it could cause social problems and imperil the country's national security.

A new school textbook that aims to teach boys how to be "masculine" men has been released since 2016. Called Little Men, the book 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.

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