China’s burgeoning pageant industry a mess

Source:Global Times Published: 2014-12-14 19:28:01

Models on the runway during a fashion week in Beijing on August 30 Photo: CFP

Who is Miss Tourism International? That is the question now before a court in Beijing's Chaoyang district.

A Beijing-based company, Zhongguangjinqiao International Culture Communication Co. Ltd. has sued four defendants for using the name "Miss Tourism International" without its authorization. 

Miss Tourism International is an international beauty pageant founded in Malaysia in 1993.

The plaintiff claims to be one of the organizers demanding 350,000 yuan ($56,668) as compensation. The court has not yet reached a verdict following a hearing in early December.

The finals for "Miss Tourism International," which were previously scheduled to be held in Shenzhen, South China's Guangdong Province on Friday, have now been canceled following claims that Yiting International Culture Co. Ltd., the event's supposed organizer and one of the defendants in the Chaoyang court case, had hired contestants for the event.

The case is just one of many recent beauty pageant scandals in China, which have triggered heated debate of the unwritten rules governing the future of this developing industry. 

Scandal-ridden contests

Recent years have seen many high-level international beauty pageants held in China, including Miss World, Miss Universe and Miss Bikini International. The Chinese mainland also holds several popular contests, including the New Silk Road model contest. In fact, China has more than 100 beauty pageants every year, the Xinhua News Agency reported. But not all competitions are properly credentialed.

Some beauty pageants organizations have registered themselves abroad in order to be identified as "international" or "world-class" events, which can be helpful in attracting sponsors, according to Xinhua.

The China Economic Weekly cited Bao Junqing, vice-chairman of the Asia Model Association China Committee, as saying that some 80 percent of foreign contestants were hired by model agencies.

A foreign model can earn some 2,000 yuan per day for posing as a foreign beauty queen in a so-called "international" beauty pageant in China, according to an article published on The Atlantic magazine in November. The article also noted that many of those sponsors are wealthy local real estate magnates. 

The public might expect titles to go only to true embodiments of Venus, but beauty pageant insiders say that crowns can be brought, news portal reported.

Some Chinese events charge the organizers of spinoff contests, making sponsors crucial to local organizers, according to a report on China Economic Weekly in 2012.

Spinoff pageants can require at least 400,000 yuan to 600,000 yuan in sponsorship. Therefore, if a sponsor has a particular candidate they would like to see crowned, there is little organizers can do, reported.

It costs around 50,000 yuan to 200,000 yuan to manipulate the results and secure a winner in a beauty contests, according to the Phoenix Weekly.

These "unwritten rules" have triggered public criticism of unqualified winners, and also led to difficulties for some pageants in finding contestants.

Bao noted that many contestants are hired, with the result that the same contestant might appear in a number of different events. 

A profitable business

Considerable profit is the force behind the rise of beauty pageants, a number of insiders reached by Xinhua reporters said.

The profit margin on a single event is normally between 30 percent and 35 percent of total sponsorship, according to the insiders.

If a contest can pass itself off as "world-class," it can easily get millions of yuan in sponsorship and more from the sale of broadcasting rights, insiders said. quoted organizers of Miss World Fashion, which claims to be a China-based beauty pageant, as saying that contestants in some events can also be hired out for commercial performance as a way to generate extra cash for organizers.  

Local governments are also keen to arrange beauty pageants to attract public attention. Most beauty pageants in China are affiliated with a local government-run cultural or tourism festival, a manager from a Beijing-based model training agency told Xinhua. 

As contests often receive corporate sponsorship, they can be a cost-effective way for local governments to promote their tourism industries and boost local economy at the same time, the manager added.

For instance, Xitang, an ancient town in East China's Zhejiang Province, saw its tourism revenue quadruple after holding the China finals for the Miss World Tourism pageant in 2004, 2005 and 2006.

The local government invested some 3.5 million yuan a year to organize the event, while the increase in local tourism income was in the hundreds of millions of yuan, Wuhan-based news portal reported, adding that the "beauty profit model" has inspired lots of local governments in other regions.

But the rapid increase in pageant numbers has resulted in lax oversight of event organizers on the part of local governments, according to Xinhua. 

Chaotic supervision

Despite the rise of beauty pageants, there is no specific government authority supervising the events.

The lack of regulation has hence led to chaos in the beauty pageant industry. Almost any pageant can now call itself "world-class" to attract more attention, news portal reported.

Logos for some events such as Miss Global Tourism or "Miss International Tourism" are also difficult to copyright under current intellectual rights protection law, according the news portal.

Zhu Lijia, a public management professor at the Chinese Academy of Governance, has urged the government to better supervise the industry, according to Xinhua.

"Chaotic supervision has not only tarnished the reputation of beauty pageants in China, but have also wasted public resources," Zhu said. 

Newspaper headline: A Beauty of a Problem

Posted in: Society

blog comments powered by Disqus