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Gendering the Youth: China and its censorship on effeminacy 

Written by: Alyah Albader

On September 2, 2021, the Chinese government had put a ban on effeminate men from all entertainment platforms – including TV, video games, and social media. The ban was announced following subsequent attempts by the government to enforce “revolutionary culture” which tighten the mobilization of media and censors any social threats that may corrupt the nation’s “common prosperity.” But how are effeminate men considered a threat to this prosperity?  

Despite the popularity of effeminacy and homosexuality in the nation’s long history, from the ancient euphemism of duan xiu (cut sleeve) to the bishounen (beautiful boy) aesthetic of the early 21st century, Chinese society dismissed these behaviors as incorrigible illnesses which stem from sexual frustration/ inferiority. Following the nation’s socio-political breakdown during the “century of humiliation” and the succeeding colonization of Western powers, however, Chinese society was left with a feeling of powerlessness, inferiority, and social deterioration – plagued by its image as the “sick man” of East Asia. This reflection of the nation and its “feminized passivity” would be conveyed into the disreputable social image of “fake women” and their corruption of modern society.  

Manhood and strength in China are seen as the optimum social tropes required in its globalized society. Linked to national security and militarization, the state sees masculinity as a prerequisite for “common prosperity” and essentially links male emasculation to the survival of the state. So much so, recent social trends of androgyny and femininity, common amongst earlier generations, are seen as threats to national security. This has caused the Chinese government to target their social reforms on the youth, molding and entrapping them in a nationalist image of masculinity and physicality. This is reflected in their crackdown on video game activities and internet censorship which are, according to the state, the root of mental and cultural erosion of the nation. As the Xinhua News Agency, the Republic’s official news agency has stated, “To cultivate a new generation that will shoulder the responsibility of national rejuvenation, we need to resist erosion from indecent culture.”   

Seeing the imminent population crisis and the drastic socio-technological developments of the 21st century, the state sees itself leading to what it perceives as a social crisis. The future of the state is dependent on the younger generations, who do not meet the social standards of its leaders, and thus are pressured into restrictive social regiments for national readiness. As admiral Luo Yuan has asserted, “When the youth are strong, the country is strong. When the youth dominate the earth, the country dominates the earth.” The lack of manhood, which has been heavily attributed to the rise of “fake women” and video games, is seen by the state and society as a metaphor for passive masculinity and national crisis.   

These insecurities are everted and projected into China’s behavior in international politics, treating its allies and opponents based on gendered impressions. For example, Xi Jinping has explicitly stated that the collapse of the Soviet Union was because “no one was man enough” to hold it together. China’s linkage of gender and state behavior as well as its crusade against effeminacy in the public sphere tells a compelling narrative of China’s insecurity of its own position in the international system. This narrative reflects the state’s own fear of being dominated by foreign powers, ascribed to the trauma of the Century of Humiliation. The state attributed its defense and success to national strength and resilience – an image that must be set by the men of the state, making them its ideological foundation. As Xi Jinping has addressed during the Centennial of the Communist Party of China, the state would no longer be “bullied, oppressed, or subjugated” by foreign countries.  

Image by duncan c (CC BY-NC 2.0)

China’s censorship and bans on such trivial social concepts as Winnie the Pooh are not completely unwarranted. There is a wider ideological context and a deeper historical significance that not only “validate” state behavior but also cause it. The traumas of the Century of Humiliation and the events that followed attest to the intolerance of the state for any mistakes, especially social ones. The tenderness and fragility of the modern youth are a contrast to the callous of the old and serve as a reminder to the frail “sick man of Asia” – fearing the repeat of history with the rise of a spoiled, privileged society. This fear has directed its assault on effeminacy as one of the roots of social erosion, a harbinger of disunity and chaos and the enemy of common prosperity. The state’s prescription of strength and resilience to the etiology of feminine passivity has forced it to tackle social conventions that disrupt the flow of its emasculanized narrative, leading to the censorship and bans. Following China’s recent purge of the market and entertainment industry, one could only sit anxiously for what the state may target next. 

Featured image by Mills Baker (CC BY 2.0)

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