Letter From Beijing

China goes hard on 'soft boys'

But campaign to get schools to expand PE lessons draws criticism from netizens

Boyband TFBoys, whose androgynous personas are borrowed from the success stories of Japanese and Korean pop idols, has won over female fans and advertisers, including those for cosmetic brands. The masculinity debate resurfaced recently after a gover
Boyband TFBoys, whose androgynous personas are borrowed from the success stories of Japanese and Korean pop idols.PHOTO: TFFANSCLUB0704/FACEBOOK
Boyband TFBoys, whose androgynous personas are borrowed from the success stories of Japanese and Korean pop idols, has won over female fans and advertisers, including those for cosmetic brands. The masculinity debate resurfaced recently after a gover
The masculinity debate resurfaced recently after a government adviser submitted a proposal to prevent the feminisation of young males, noting that soft Chinese boys were a threat to the development and survival of China.PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING • Whenever education business owner Xiong Xiao's five-year-old son sees androgynous pop stars on TV or on billboards in Beijing, he would point to them and ask: "Why do boys wear makeup?" or "Are they boys or girls?".

Those questions worry Madam Xiong, 32, who fears her son would come under the influence of these "xiao xian rou" and become an effeminate boy.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 28, 2021, with the headline 'China goes hard on 'soft boys''. Subscribe