Actors are having their ears blurred in China as part of an agenda to reinforce traditional notions of masculinity. Earlier this month, local viewers noticed that two men appearing on the Sino-Taiwanese reality show I Fiori Delle Sorelle (The Sister’s Flowers) had their earlobes censored to obscure the fact that they were wearing earrings. The censorship had been implemented by the Netflix-like streaming service iQiyi, the ABC reports, in what some people believe to be a state-sanctioned crackdown on the “effeminate” male celebrity. It has since sparked a backlash that has seen the hashtag #MaleTVStarsCantWearEarrings being used almost 100,000 times on social media platform Weibo.
Many users have accused the Chinese state media of attempting to reinforce traditional gender roles and impose their definition of “masculinity” upon the public. Some have labelled it “gender discrimination”. Others, meanwhile, have supported the decision and condemned jewellery-wearing celebrities as being “a bad influence for our children.”
"I support the government moving to rule on this," wrote one user, "men should look like men."
China’s heavy-handed approach to censorship is nothing new. The country’s suppression laws are some of the strictest in the world, with state-owned TV broadcasters regularly censoring representations of hip-hop culture, tattoos, and LGBT symbols, according to NDTV, as well as any content that expresses "overt admiration for Western lifestyles" or jokes about Chinese traditions, according to the BBC. It’s often the case that domestic programs need to submit papers to their local Communist party bureau months in advance in order to gain official approval for broadcast. And with more and more people starting to consume and upload content online, these regulations have gradually started extending to digital platforms.
Professor Yuk Ping Choi, a sociology expert from the Chinese University of Hong Kong, explained to the ABC that this particular case was likely motivated by the Government’s desire for China to be taken seriously on the world stage.
"China is seeking international influence, so they want to align the image of Chinese men with the global image of masculinity," she said. Professor Choi further explained that media outlets were often expected to self-censor in order to meet Government standards of what is and what isn’t appropriate content. As she says, "It appears [the streaming] company fears the actors' appearance goes against the Government's expectation of how male actors should behave.”
It's not entirely clear whether regulators have issued a specific directive stating that men can’t be shown wearing earrings, or whether broadcasters are making their own decisions and self-censoring based on what is considered culturally appropriate. According to local media company Sina Entertainment, a journalist who inquired at the official website of the State Administration of Radio and Television (SARFT) did not find any explicit stipulations that "the male artist could not wear earrings on a TV show". The journalist did not receive a response after repeated calls.
Last year, Chinese state media outlet Xinhua News Agency published a scathing editorial denouncing the portrayal of men in Chinese media. The article declared that the “sickly aesthetics” of many effeminate male celebrities—who they referred to as "sissy pants" or "little fresh meats"—was having a negative impact on China’s teens and causing damage to the country’s national image.
"In an open and diverse society, aesthetics can be varied, and people can enjoy what they do," Xinhua's editorial said. "However, everything should have a limit … in this case, it's no longer a matter of aesthetics, but it is an enthusiasm for ugliness and vulgarity.
"The reason why the sissy pants phenomenon arouses public antipathy is that we cannot underestimate the negative impact of this sickly culture on teenagers, who are the future of the country."
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This article originally appeared on VICE AU.