China's meat divide

By Katrin Büchenbacher Source:Global Times Published: 2018/7/19 18:13:39

Chinese girls gawk on young, effeminate-looking male actors and singers, but now older entertainment industry experts have put their foot down

"Little fresh meat" - young, handsome, skinny male stars - find themselves criticized by the "beef jerky" of the entertainment industry. Photo: VCG

Chinese idol Cai Xukun is considered to be a representative of "little fresh meat." Photo: VCG

Chinese popular boy band TFBoys. Photo: VCG

Chinese hit K-pop idol Lu Han. Photo: VCG


In recent years, a special type of celebrity has captured young Chinese girl's hearts. They have pale, soft skin and a scandal-free life. They are young, stylish and skinny, almost androgynous-looking boys. The fans call them xiao xianrou - "little fresh meat." The boygroup TFboys, the model/actor/rapper Cai Xukun or "Chinese Justin Bieber" dubbed Lu Han may only weigh around 55kg each but are heavyweights in the entertainment industry.

On Quora, a question and answer site based in the US, a user named Sam X defines little fresh meat as good looking stars with "bad performance or singing skills" but an "unreasonable amount of crazy fans." The other side of the spectrum is what female fans call "beef jerky" - middle-aged, more mature and classy looking, perhaps more muscular, actors and singers.

An aesthetics problem

Now, the beef jerky of the Chinese entertainment industry wish to put a hold on the growing popularity of their competitors. Famous screenwriter Wang Hailin explained at the press conference of his new TV drama The Patriot why he thinks that little fresh meats are leading Chinese masculinity in the wrong direction.

"In the original sense of the expression, it was used in a derogatory way to describe prostitutes of Hong Kong women," he said, adding that countries with an advanced understanding of aesthetics, such as European countries and the US, have a "strong sense of masculinity."

He said that male actors represented the national will and hence were very important.

Effeminate-looking "little fresh meat" can exist, he added, "but we should not encourage the youth to strive for that look."

Metropolitan spoke with Beijing's residents to find out if they favor little meats or beef jerky and what masculinity has to do with a country's national power.

South African national Kevin Richardson, whose arms look like they're getting regular workouts, said, "Some of the (Chinese) men just come across as more feminine than anything else," adding that ever since he came to China, he realized that some of the local men's skin is in better shape than the women's. 

"I do think that if (China) wants to come across as powerful they should have more masculine men out there instead of just showcasing boys with nice skin and makeup," he said.

Fashion free of gender norms

Li Jiaqi, who's wearing circular lenses, donning pink hair and a pair of dungarees that enhance his slim figure, sees it as a compliment when people call him little fresh meat. He thinks that his passion for a unisex, Japanese-inspired clothing has nothing to do with China's prestige.

"If you judge a country's national power through the way the people dress, I think that's way too superficial," he said, adding that China and the US have different traditions in the way they have given meaning to masculinity historically.

"To define a country, we must rather see if there is a positive energy in their society," he said.

American Malia Mullen said that she personally likes a grown-up and classy look more than a youthful look in men, but she also thinks that some cultures over-emphasize manliness in their choice of actors. "I don't think that being less masculine has any effect on a country's ability to be in control or to do good because that would be saying that women are not capable of being in control or doing good," she said. "I think women are badass. We can do anything that men can. If a guy wants to be more feminine, he can be a badass too!"

A young Chinese woman nammed Amanda, who only wanted to give us her English name, is a fan of "little fresh meat" because of their youthful, pale and "tender" appearance.

"Some guys are masculine and some are cute," she said, "It's not contradictory. It's fine."

Dutch national Petra does not fancy "little fresh meat." "They look so young," she said. "They should do more training and eat some spaghetti, mashed potatoes and chicken," she advises.

Guinean Lloyd thinks that the expression "little fresh meat" sounds sensual when depicting young men. He personally prefers more mature looking guys as he thinks of himself as "not feminine at all." At the same time, he understands that Chinese women would like the "feminine" type as they are of smaller shape and size as well.

Chinese Liu has another explanation for the popularity of little fresh meat.

"We Easterners may prefer the stars that need your attention and care, while Westerners may prefer muscle men, who give you more of a sense of security," he said, adding that Chinese stars can be both manly or adopt a more unisex style. Fashion and body shapes may not be defined by fixed gender norms. "It is just fine to have this diversity."


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