○ A TV special shown to elementary school students featuring highly effeminate male celebrities has lit a firestorm online
○ Many official media outlets condemned the TV program for "poisoning China's youth," some using offensive language like "sissy"
○ Other voices, including the People's Daily, are calling for tolerance of the different ways to be a man
A heated debate on China's new feminine-looking male celebrities has flooded Sina Weibo, China's Twitter-like social media platform, as the country's State broadcaster aired four young male singers in its television special First Class of the New Semester on September 1.
Designed for China's elementary school students, the TV special jointly produced by China Central Television and the Ministry of Education is compulsory for most of the country's elementary students.
Angry parents harshly criticized the youthful celebrities, deriding them with terms like "pretty girls that cannot have babies," and called on authorities to ban the effeminate stars before the next generation adopts their example.
Mr Feng, father of a 5-year-old boy, told the Global Times that he is worried that his son will behave in a feminine way in school under the influence of these stars.
On the other hand, some voices are urging society to respect people's rights to be as feminine or masculine as they choose. Some of these people circulated a video about a 15-year-old boy's death attributed to school bullying over his feminine appearance in Taiwan 18 years ago.
"It is important to stay true to your heart," Zhang Yukun, mother of a 4-year-old boy, told the Global Times, adding, "I will give my son all my support as long as he chooses a path he likes."
A crisis of masculinity
A commentary published by the Xinhua News Agency on September 6 blasted these girlish idols, saying China's youth will have a crisis of masculinity if they follow the way these pop idols speak or dress.
"They look androgynous and wear makeup; they are slender and weak," read the commentary. "The impact this sick culture will have on our young generation is immeasurable. The youth are the future of the country… What a country's pop culture embraces, refuses and conveys is something that matters to the future of a country."
An editorial released by the Beijing Youth Daily, a newspaper under the Beijing committee of the Communist Youth League of China, on Saturday read, "Some children are loyal fans of these effeminate idols and they will copy whatever their idols say or do… If we set no limit to this trend, more people will be proud of this effeminacy and our society and our country's masculinity will be in crisis."
The media's condemnation triggered a heated debate on social media. Some are happy that China's official news outlets are finally voicing concerns on what they see as a harmful trend in the entertainment industry.
"If one man wants to dress like a woman, I will respect that. But this should not be the mainstream aesthetic, and public figures, especially, should avoid that," commented one user on Weibo.
But some netizens said such views fall into gender stereotyping and lack diversity.
"There should not be one standard on male beauty or masculinity. Choose what you like, and tolerate what others like, that's enough. Diversity makes the world beautiful," Huiyu, a Weibo user, commented.
"Requiring that boys have to be masculine is like saying girls must be sweet and gentle," another netizen commented.
Some are especially offended by media reports' connection of feminine idols with China's future.
"My job is to work with people from China's LGBT community. A lot of them, men or women, defy mainstream perceptions of masculinity and femininity. But this doesn't, in any way, affect their capability in the workplace or their contribution to our society and to the country," Ah Qiang (pseudonym), a well-known gay rights activist and director of Guangzhou-based NGO Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), told the Global Times.
Fang Gang, an expert on gender and psychological studies at Beijing Forestry University, said the existence of male idols who don't comply with traditional sexual views is a good thing and shows that Chinese society is becoming more diverse in its perceptions of sexuality.
"Saying that they will affect a country's destiny is too far-fetched," he told the Global Times.