China Bans Effeminate Men and Abnormal Esthetics From TV

What Happened: It’s the final curtain for China’s “Little Fresh Meat.” On September 2, Chinese authorities announced a ban on “sissy men and other abnormal esthetics” on TV, encouraging broadcasters to “promote excellent Chinese traditional culture” instead.

In the latest crackdown on entertainment, video platforms are barred from airing idol development programs (think Youth With You and Produce Camp) as well as reality shows featuring celebrity children. On top of this, minors are prohibited from participating in idol groups, while artists who have violated the law and “lost morality” cannot return to work — sealing the fate of China’s canceled celebrities. According to regulators, these new rules are designed to address problems like wealth flaunting and celebrity worship and cultivate respect for morality. 

The Jing Take: This isn’t the first time China’s “girly” men have gotten flak from the state. In the past, authorities have gone as far as censoring male earrings on TV and tying “Little Fresh Meat” to a CIA plot to feminize the country’s men. Just this March, the Ministry of Education even proposed “masculinity” training for students through physical education classes — although little has been heard about this initiative since.

Recommended ReadingIs China Killing off its “Little Fresh Meat”? By Gemma A. Williams
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What’s different now is that the clampdown comes amid stricter regulation of China’s entertainment sector, following the outbreak of idol scandals over the past few months. Rather than make broad suggestions about boosting masculinity, China has thrown down the hammer: iQIYI has cancelled its idol programs; Weibo, Tencent, and NetEase Cloud Music have removed celebrity popularity rankings; and unruly celebrities have been pulled from video platforms.

Why should global brands care? For one, luxury players entering China have long relied on these fresh faces and their huge fan followings for publicity and sales. Wang Yibo, for example, is often seen sporting Chanel women’s blazers and bedazzled necklaces as its brand ambassador. Meanwhile, other male idols like Zhu Zhengting and INTO1’s Liu Yu are go-to choices for color cosmetic campaigns, promoting everything from lipsticks to eye shadows. With no clear definition of what falls under the Party’s definition of “sissy” — Is it clothes and makeup? Is it certain types of behavior? — ambassadorial appointments will become more tricky.

Perfect Diary employs idols Zhu Zhengting (left) and Liu Yu to star in its campaigns. Photo: Perfect Diary’s Weibo

More worryingly, there’s also vagueness about what “other abnormal esthetics” means. Looking beyond men, this could limit representation of androgynous female stars and LBGTQ+ individuals, and possibly affect the way brands address breaking gender and beauty norms in their storytelling. Thus, while these regulations are all in the name of promoting a healthier society, the repercussions could be more insidious than just pulling the plug on pretty boys. 

The Jing Take reports on a piece of the leading news and presents our editorial team’s analysis of the key implications for the luxury industry. In the recurring column, we analyze everything from product drops and mergers to heated debate sprouting on Chinese social media.

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