Chinese censors have a thing about actor Jing Boran’s earlobes. The same goes for at least two other male celebrities, Xiao Gui and Lin Yanjun. The reason? They all sport earrings.
Viewers started to notice a blurriness over the lower part of the mens’ ears in mid-January on the online video streaming channel iQiyi. No explanation was offered by the platform for why it had obscured the men’s jewellery and, as far as local media could tell, the National Radio and Television Administration hadn’t issued a specific directive banning channels from showing men with earrings.
However, television channels have been given instructions in the past not to broadcast other non-traditional fashion choices for men, such as dyed hair or tattoos, and pressured instead to feature celebrities with “positive and healthy” appearance.
The issue came to a head in September last year when the official back-to-school gala show on state broadcaster CCTV featured several fresh-faced, androgynous men – who are often labelled niangpao or ‘sissy boys’ by more conservative Chinese. Xinhua even warned that these “effeminate” men were a “challenge to the social order” and a newspaper printed by the Peoples Liberation Army was similarly concerned, saying that they were “eroding the country’s martial spirit” (see WiC424) and its ability to recruit.
Underpinning the reaction is a wider concern that traditional gender roles are under threat, making it less likely that people will take advantage of newly relaxed family planning policies that allow couples to have two children.
Birth figures for 2018 showed a year-on-year drop of two million babies when they were announced last month. That follows a drop of 630,000 the year before.
Indeed last year’s figure of 15.23 million births was the lowest since 1961, a year when millions of people were starving to death during the famine created by the Great Leap Forward.
Yet many young Chinese – the people tasked with having bigger families – are put off by the government’s unreconstructed outlook on masculinity.
The topic “men not allowed to wear earrings on TV” garnered over 420 million hits within a week of people noticing the ban and many of the comments suggested weariness at another heavy-handed effort to encourage more traditional values.
“What next, will women with short hair or wearing trousers also be blurred out?” asked one woman.
“I find men with earrings sexy. Surely that’s a good thing,” quipped another, poking fun at the procreation theme.
Aside from reproductive concerns, a secondary objection is that tattoos and other looks favoured by some Chinese stars are too Western – even though they are mostly copied from Japanese and South Korean popstars – and that they point to a lifestyle that discounts traditional values like working hard.
One of the earliest examples of blurred out celebrities was on Hunan TV in 2017 when the host of a show called Day Day Up sported a mop of green hair. Both he and his two guests – one of who had red hair and the other boasting plaits – were pixellated into oblivion.
Later a show called My Little One saw the actor Chen Xuedong pull his hair into a top-knot. That was too much for the censors, who hid his hairstyle behind a large cartoon cat.
In other formats, the arms and legs of the protagonists have been pixallated because of their tattoos.
Tattoos are associated with gangster culture in traditional Chinese thinking, hence the sensitivities (see WiC403).
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