Dressed in a high neckline, tight pants and a bold red lip, Pekingese photographer Alain would be hard to miss even at the busiest party. People watch him, he says, and he loves it: “It’s totally a rebellion against conservative culture.
This is the problem for President Xi Jinping’s Communist Party. Earlier this month, regulators explicitly targeted androgynous pop idols and anyone like Alain who does not conform to Chinese gender norms, using a derogatory insult to warn media companies against men who express a more feminine style.
The National Radio and Television Administration used the word “niangpao“, Which roughly translates to” sissy men “, in the advice to television companies, telling them to” strictly control the selection of actors and guests of the program “. This is the first time the government has used the term, which is often used to insult or intimidate homosexuals, in an official communication. Last week, the same organization called for a boycott of “fan culture” in general and gay men’s romance in particular.
“It cannot be good for society,” said Alain, who asked to use his English name because he did not want to be identified when discussing politically sensitive issues. “Some of my friends are very angry – some want to put on more extremely makeup every day now to fight those limits.”
Beijing has previously pushed conservative views on gender, including a 2016 ban on gay-themed entertainment and a 2018 attack by some state media on effeminate men in popular culture. The new regulations are also aimed at pop stars and TV personalities, but observers see a redoubling of Beijing’s efforts to narrowly define what – and who – is acceptable in China today.
The current campaign appears to be more sustained and coordinated, said Rana Mitter, professor of Chinese politics at the University of Oxford. It is also linked to Xi’s broader “common prosperity” initiative, which aims to reduce economic inequalities and, increasingly, extends to efforts to erase other kinds of differences.
“The party sees growing inequality as potentially a real source of social disruption,” Mitter said. “Part of the same mindset is the idea that any noticeable difference in terms of society should also be removed, ironed out or covered as much as possible.”
In recent years, this has also included the suppression of Uyghurs and other religious and ethnic minorities, as well as the promotion of Mandarin as an official language and the resurrection of Confucian values. The Party is also pushing for families to have more children, an effort to reverse the dire effects of the decades-long one-child policy.
Criticism of gender non-conforming men can also be seen as a continuation of actions against major Chinese tech companies, said Shuaishuai Wang, senior lecturer in new media and digital culture at the University of Amsterdam.
“The video streaming sites owned by these tech giants are the main force behind this ‘sissy’ cultural trend,” said Wang. “Gender and sexuality issues can attract mass attention, and it is a safe target for regulators. “
The rules will have effects on businesses in the entertainment and fashion industries, in addition to beauty, makeup and cosmetic surgery, itself seen as a target for regulatory control.
Although the rules did not specifically mention sexual orientation, the use of an insult in official communication set off a wake-up call for the LGBTQ community, which had thrived, albeit officially. Three years ago, the official People’s Daily WeChat account posted a comment denouncing “such derogatory phrases, including ‘niangpao’,” and called for respect and tolerance of a diverse aesthetic.
Regulators and censors now seem more attentive. This summer, WeChat shut down the accounts of LGBTQ associations at top universities, including Tsinghua and Beijing, claiming they had broken unspecified rules. A September 2 comment in the People’s Daily echoed the government’s insult and praised the fact that these people will no longer have the opportunity to “brag” in cyberspace.
A 27-year-old homosexual in Guangzhou who calls himself Coco said hearing the government term reminded him of being bullied as a teenager for what he described as his “rather feminine look.”
“It’s really painful,” said Coco, asking to use her nickname to avoid retaliation for commenting on government policies. “Today they are LGBT people, men with a feminine look,” he said. “Tomorrow, the target could be people who do not have children. Anyone can be a minority in one way or another. No one is safe. “
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