China's manhood training club sparks controversy

Students participate in training at the Real Boy's Club in Beijing. Photo: The New York Times

The Real Boy's Club, a school for training boys to become more manlike, in Beijing has sparked controversy on China's social media.

Founded in 2012 by Tang Haiyan, 39, a former football coach and teacher, the club now boasts over 2,000 members aged 7 to 12.

"We will teach them to play golf, go sailing and be equestrians," said Tang. "But we will never cultivate sissies."

The comments came amid a heated discussion of "Little Fresh Meat", a term used to refer to young good-looking men.

Many netizens slammed those boys as being physically and emotionally weak, believing that their popularity might lead to what is being called a "crisis of masculinity."

Sun Yi, a mother, spent about 14,000 yuan ($2,000) on sending her only eight-year-old son to the club, believing it would teach him teamwork.

"He used to like crying, but now I think he is more optimistic," said Sun. "I feel that his tolerance ability has improved, and now he knows how to deal with failure and frustration."

In the club, the lessons of manhood are taught in slogans.

Before the boys undergo training, they are required make a pledge to study hard for the "rise of China."

"I am a real man! The main bearer of the family and social responsibility in the future! The backbone of the Chinese people!" they shout.

"At the beginning of the program, several of the boys spoke only in a whisper or cried for half an hour," said Guo Suiyun, one teacher.

"We will not comfort them. We will only encourage them to be gallant," added Guo.

They are banned from playing with smartphones at school and asked to run shirtless outside even during cold winter days.

The club does not allow running amok. Those who behave rudely would be demoted from the "phoenix" level to the "smelly egg" level.

Though gaining recognition from some parents, the club is harshly criticized by netizens, who accused the teaching methods of suppressing human nature.

"I really cannot figure out what they are thinking. Why not give children the freedom to develop their own hobbies?" wrote one of them.

Influenced by a global trend of men caring more about their appearance, and the delicate, feminine K-pop aesthetic on young Chinese celebrities, more young men in China have become appearance-conscious and lack masculinity.

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

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

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