In the previous article, we have seen that it is women who have driven appreciation of a new androgynous aesthetic. As a result, intensive grooming and beautification are now the norm for countless younger men. They feel free to express themselves outwardly in a way that generations before them would never dare. It is an evolution in masculinity that is far beyond anything in the West: Chinese men in the largest cities can, without fear of any judgement, openly buy and wear make-up in public.
Much of this aesthetic revolution can be credited to the many male celebrities and key online influencers who have become highly successful beauty ambassadors. Unsurprisingly, they have now expanded into other categories. Luckin coffee and even beer brands such as Tsingtao are adopting ambassadors who personify this newly feminized masculine ideal.
For some, this has equated to progress. For the Chinese state, it has become a crisis in masculinity. Men’s looks have become too ‘soft’ and must be toughened up. And yet.. Has the government picked the wrong battle?
In the West, many current conversations around masculinity focus on men’s interior lives. Their feelings are being explored. How can toxic and patriarchal masculinity be discouraged through education, and how can men contribute to greater gender equality within society? The process is not perfect, but discussing issues such as objectifying women, physical aggression and emotional openness is recognized as vital.
But in China right now, these are not topics of public discourse.
Instead, young boys are, by and large, still taught to behave like a ‘traditional’ man. And who would criticize the promotion of values that include responsibility, resilience, leadership, a willingness to do the right thing, and a sense of duty? The problem, however, lies in the concomitant requirement that boys learn to be ‘hard’ and emotionally inexpressive. China’s ‘one child’ policy has only exacerbated this, turning pampered sons into egotists who have had little encouragement to look within themselves.
The dissonance between men’s spiritual fetters and their freedom to express themselves through their appearance is clear. So, how can today’s young Chinese men work out how they really feel? How can they define themselves, and develop new perspectives on their interior lives?
Many brands have very profitably participated in masculinity’s recent aesthetic developments. By starting to explore the meaning of masculinity in China, they could go much further. They could help the country’s young men to become more comfortable in their own skin.
Actor Liu Hao Ran as Luckin Coffee ambassador
Singer Hua Chen Yu as Tsingdao Chun Sheng beer ambassador