The Wedding Planner Reviving Naxi Traditions in Lijiang


YUNNAN, Southwest China — As the wedding party steps out into Lijiang’s old town square, curious tourists flock to the group, dazzled by their traditional Naxi attire. Many question whether the pomp and ceremony is a performance.

In fact, the Saturday afternoon spectacle is the real wedding of groom He Libao, 29, and bride Duan Jing, 21, both members of the Naxi, one of China’s 56 official ethnic groups. The Naxi population numbers around 300,000; most live in Lijiang, while the rest reside throughout Yunnan province and in neighboring Sichuan province and Tibet Autonomous Region.

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He Libao and bride Duan Jing are surrounded by tourists in Lijiang during their wedding ceremony.  Aug. 5, 2017. Yiying Fan

Though traditional wedding ceremonies are still common in remote villages, the custom has faded in the city of Lijiang since the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912), when cultural influences from the Han ethnic majority began to overwhelm the area. But now, a local wedding planning company called Xihe is reviving interest in the tradition — partly at the behest of tourists.

“Tradition is like a siege,” Wang Dejiong, a Naxi folk culture researcher, tells Sixth Tone. “People outside want to get in, while people inside want to get out.”

Most Naxi people follow the Dongba faith, which teaches that humans and nature are brothers. Before the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, at important events such as weddings, the Naxi would invite a dongba — or shaman — to perform chants. Highly respected as accomplished scholars of Naxi culture, dongba pass down their duties within families from generation to generation.

Xihe organizes around two weddings every week, including the recent Saturday ceremony, which kicks off at the Yulong Bridge, where young couples would court in the old days. Groups of Naxi boys and girls sing in praise of the bride and groom. The newlyweds then release fish into the river to show their respect for nature.

After the fish are released, the bride is carried through the center of the old town in a fringed bridal chair — followed by a wedding party of close to 50 people — to a traditional Naxi house with three wings enclosing a courtyard.

In the courtyard, a dongba presides over the “soul-binding” ceremony — the most important part of the wedding. The dongba ties the couple’s hands together and announces that they can never again be separated. Afterward, dozens of young and old dance hand in hand, wishing the newlyweds happiness and prosperity.

I was so used to my own culture — all I wanted was to escape from it.

The ceremony does not include vows, as Naxi people are shy about expressing love verbally. “We believe actions speak louder than words,” the groom explains.

“Our souls are bound together,” the bride says after the ceremony. “If I ever got a divorce, I’d feel like I lost my soul.”

The ceremony venue is also the headquarters of wedding company Xihe, founded by Naxi woman He Yumiao — who is not related to He Libao. The company’s name means “joyful crane” in the Naxi language; Naxi people worship cranes and consider the sacred birds to be a symbol of a blessed marriage, as cranes are faithful to their mates. Once one dies, it is said that the other will starve itself and die for love.

Since its establishment in 2008, Xihe has arranged traditional Naxi wedding ceremonies for more than 1,000 couples in Lijiang. Wedding packages start at 6,999 yuan (around $1,050), and the ceremony lasts about one and a half hours.

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He Yumiao stands outside her company Xihe in Lijiang, Yunan.  Aug. 5, 2017. Fan Yiying 

He Yumiao, now 38, was born and raised in a Naxi household with three generations living under one roof. “I was so used to my own culture — all I wanted was to escape from it,” she tells Sixth Tone.

After graduating from high school, He Yumiao moved from Lijiang to Kunming, Yunnan’s provincial capital, in 1997 and worked at the city’s Naxi minority village tourist site as a performer. It was there that she wore traditional Naxi attire for the first time. Every day, she answered questions from tourists hailing from all over the world who were interested in the Naxi way of life. “It was overwhelming to see that they cared about my culture, which I took for granted every day,” she says.

A couple years later, He Yumiao moved back home to Lijiang and became a tour guide in the old town. In 2006, she met a Singaporean couple who had come to the city on their honeymoon. They were enamored with the local culture and asked whether she could arrange a traditional Naxi wedding for them. At the time, she knew didn’t know much about the ceremony — nor were there many examples in the city that she could follow — but she was determined to try. With the help of elderly locals, she organized a Naxi wedding in just a few days at Lijiang’s Black Dragon Pond Park.

It was then that He Yumiao decided to devote herself to preserving the Naxi wedding tradition. “I finally found where my heart belongs,” she says. “Folk customs are critical to an ethnic group, and a wedding celebration is of the utmost importance because it reflects the values of the [Naxi] culture.”

Tradition is like a siege. People outside want to get in, while people inside want to get out.

Naxi couple Li Jixing, 35, and He Dong, 38, stumbled upon the Singaporean couple’s wedding ceremony while they were strolling in the park, discussing their own wedding plans. Though they had heard elders speak of traditional ceremonies, it was the first time they had witnessed one for themselves. “I had never seen such a happy and glorious wedding in all my life,” Li tells Sixth Tone. The couple watched the entire ceremony and asked He Yumiao to arrange a similar one for them. “We always wanted a traditional wedding, but we couldn’t find a wedding company that offered such a service,” He Dong, Li’s husband, says.

The couple held their wedding ceremony in 2007 in their courtyard at home. Because He Yumiao’s business hadn’t officially launched yet, the ceremony was simple and brief. “But at least we had a ceremony,” He Dong says; otherwise, they would simply have had a banquet with family and friends like most couples of their generation.

After He Yumiao launched Xihe, she didn’t book her first wedding until six months later, when a transnational couple from Scotland and central China’s Hubei province asked her to arrange a wedding ceremony in Lijiang that brought together Naxi and Western customs. Photos of the ceremony posted online brought her many new customers.

But for the first five years of running her business, He Yumiao was frustrated that most of her clients were tourists, while many Naxi people paid little attention to their own traditions. “Locals would rather pay thousands of yuan to have a Western wedding at a church,” she says.

She credits tourists for helping to turn the tide. “The tourists have made Naxi weddings trendy and fashionable, which piqued locals’ interests,” she says. Now, half of her clients are locals, as more and more Naxi young people have begun to take pride in their traditions.

Yet the romance of the Dongba ceremony continues to draw many outsiders. Yang Cailing and her husband are both Han but have lived in Lijiang for the last decade. Though they had a Western wedding in 2012, Yang always felt something was missing. She decided she wanted a second wedding after finding out that the Naxi language had no word for divorce.

“At first, [my husband] was against the idea because he thought it would be like a performance for tourists in the old town of Lijiang,” Yang laughs. Meanwhile, she hoped the ceremony would spice up married life, which had begun to feel dull after a few years. The 31-year-old persuaded her husband to have a Dongba ceremony in January, and one month later, she found out she was pregnant with their second child.

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Yang Cailing and her husband hold a traditional Naxi Wedding in January 2017. Courtesy of Yang Cailin

He Yumiao started her company mainly out of curiosity, but she has since developed a deep sense of cultural responsibility. “We are probably the last generation of Naxi people to be raised in our local culture,” she says. “If I didn’t do something to save our wedding ceremony traditions, who would?”

But cultural researcher Wang still has doubts about the tradition’s prospects. “Naxi minorities are sinicized and tend to worship anything foreign,” he says. “It’s hard to revive the tradition, but at least [He Yumiao] is doing something.”

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China’s Year-end Bonus Game Has Just Started


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The end of the year is approaching. This means that Chinese employees start to look forward to their annual year-end bonuses (年终奖). It is a tradition in China that can be both stressful and pleasant for full-time workers: is the boss finally giving out that promised bonus, or do they have to wait another season?

The year-end bonus became a hot topic on Sina Weibo this week. A number of China media, including China Daily (中国日报) and Caijing (财经网), posted the news of a Chinese boss paying terminated employees the year-end bonuses they were supposed to get four years ago.

Over 90 employees were forced to leave the Chongqing-based company in 2011 due to financial problems, and the employer failed to give them their year-end bonuses that year. Since the company has been doing better in 2015, the boss decided to reissue the bonuses that he promised his former employees four years ago.

The news received much attention on Weibo, where the hundreds of netizens responding to this post can be roughly divided into two camps: those who praise the Chongqing employer for being “such a wonderful boss”, and those who say that they just want to repost this news to their own boss as a subtle hint.

 

“Over 80% of employers paid year-end bonuses to their employees in 2015.”

 

According to PXC Consulting, a well-known human resource research organization in China, over 80% of employers paid year-end bonuses to their employees in 2015. Within these enterprises, 77.6% pay more than RMB 5,000 (±US$1,058), and 4.1% pay more than RMB 30,000 (±US$4,645) to each employee. Of all cities, Shanghai tops the ranking with the average employee working there receiving roughly 8,515 yuan (±US$1,319) on top of their monthly salary.

The height of the year-end bonus largely depends on one’s profession. People employed in the finance, e-commerce, automobile, and aviation sectors rank amongst the top earners when it comes to year-end bonuses, PXC Consulting reports.

 

“I only stay at the company because of my year-end bonus.”

 

For many Chinese workers, the year-end bonus is their motivation to work hard and stay in the company till the end of December. Sina Weibo user ‘Xiao Meng‘ is a typical example of such a worker: “My wages are nothing compared to the labor intensity of the job. What’s more, my company is a two-hour drive from home. I only stay at the company for the sake of my year-end bonus.”

The year-end bonus is also called the ‘December bonus’, which means that the bonus is supposed to be paid in December of every year. But over recent years, more and more companies choose to pay the bonus in the middle of the year or divide it into seasons, to make sure their employees don’t leave right after receiving the bonus.

Weibo user ‘CBH2015‘ complains that he might not be able to receive half of his year-end bonus. “My income is composed of a base salary and the year-end bonus. However, the year-end bonus is given out twice a year – in the end of December and in the middle of next year. I don’t think I will get the second half of my bonus, as I have just resigned.”

 

“Some employers have turned the ‘year-end bonus’ into a ‘stay-and-don’t-leave bonus’ to make sure their factory workers will come back after the Chinese New Year.”

 

It is up to each employer how much they pay for the year-end bonus, and when they pay it. Some employers have now turned the ‘year-end bonus’ into a ‘stay-and-don’t-leave bonus’. This way, they can ensure their factory workers will come back after the Chinese New Year. Since companies care about keeping good employees for the development of their businesses, and employees care about the receiving a bonus to boost their income, the delay of bonus-giving seems like a clever solution for many companies.

Pressured by rising prices, the timing of when to pay the year-end bonus and deciding on its amount seems increasingly crucial to employees. Therefore, most companies do not add the bonus to their labor contracts. Whether or not they give out the bonus depends on the company’s situation and recent profits.

 

“Last year, a Guangzhou Internet company gave away 10 Audi cars as year-end bonuses for its employees.”

 

According to Fu Ting, a labor relation lawyer from Beijing, employees should demand a written promise to ensure the pay of year-end bonuses. She writes that it is not required for companies to give out year-end bonuses, unless there is a contractual agreement. Such an agreement would avoid confusion and disappointments, benefiting both employers and their employees: “The written promise could be included in the work contract, in a compensation agreement or in the company regulations. The specific date of payment should be written in the contract as well.”

But in reality, many employers are not yet willing to contractually agree to give out the year-end bonus. They do not want to risk violating the contract once they cannot afford to give out money at the end of the year. Simply not putting anything on paper is the safer route to take.

 

“After I complained about it on Weibo, they decided to give out the bonus.”

 

The year-end bonus will be a hot topic for the coming weeks, as some workers will be surprised and some disappointed. It has created some social media hypes over recent years. Last year, a Guangzhou Internet company gave away 10 Audi cars as year-end bonuses for its employees. Another company reportedly gave out 1 RMB lottery tickets as a year-end bonus, making some employees resign on the spot.

If the boss is late paying, complaining on Weibo might offer a solution. User ‘Nikovsky‘ writes: “My company always delays the year-end bonus. The managers don’t pay us until we are back for work after Chinese New Year. But after I complained about it on Weibo, they’ve decided to give out the bonus in the end of December.”

By Yiying Fan

This article was published on What’s on Weibo.

“Too Loud, Too Rude”: Switzerland Introduces Separate Trains for Chinese Tourists


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Switzerland has introduced special coaches for Chinese tourists, as locals consider them to be ‘loud’ and ‘rude’. The news has triggered mixed reactions amongst Weibo’s netizens.

According to China’s National Tourism Administration (中国国家旅游管理局), China now sends more tourists abroad than any other country in the world. The number of Chinese outbound tourists exceeded 100 million in 2014, spending $155 billion.

Although destination countries welcome the money spent by Chinese travelers, locals often can’t stand the chaos and hassle some Chinese tourists bring to their countries. They consider them to be loud, rude, pushy, and all over the place.

“They’re loud and rude, and spit on the floor.”

Such is the case in Switzerland, visited by one million Chinese tourists every year. Locals and Swiss tourists often feel harassed by the Chinese, Heute reports, especially on the famous Rigi Railways. Chinese tourists are said to be “loud and rude”, and they “spit on the floor”. Their misbehavior has lead Rigi Railways to take special measures: since August there are extra trains for ‘Asian tourists’, and from September extra ones for ‘international guests’. There are also special signs on the toilet explaining tourists how (not) to use the toilet, according to Heute.

Although Rigi Railways officially has opened extra train carriages for ‘Asian guests’, a local Swiss newspaper clearly stated they were especially meant for Chinese, its headline being: “Zu laut, zu frech – Schweiz führt Extra-Züge für Chinesen ein” (“Too Loud, Too Rude: Switzerland Introduces Extra Trains for Chinese Tourists”).

The newspaper also published one of the train’s illustrations that instruct tourists to sit on toilet seats rather than to squat on them. The railway company assumes that Chinese tourists often stand on the toilet, and don’t clean their footprints afterwards.

“Some Chinese have bad manners, but we’re not all like that.”

Once the news was posted on Sina Weibo on August 25th, it gained over 2000 comments in one day. The reactions were mixed.

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Many users consider it to be discrimination against Chinese tourists. User “Shiya” doubts Europeans can tell the differences between Asians: “They can’t distinguish the different Asians from different countries. Chinese, Japanese and Koreans probably look the same to them. Why are they so sure that the footprints are left by Chinese? The news says that the extra coaches are meant for Asians. However, it tried to draw the public’s attention by emphasizing it is for Chinese in the title. This is discrimination.”

User “Luoluo” follows: “I thought people from western countries advocate freedom and equality, and that they oppose to discrimination. But to me, this [the news] is pure and simple discrimination. I admit that some Chinese don’t really have good manners, but it doesn’t mean we are all like that. I’m fed up that we are blamed for all the uncivilized behavior by Asians. Of course we need to stand up against misbehaviour, but we can’t endure the discrimination.”

“If you’re used to squatting, you just can’t poo by sitting on the toilet.”

Some users try to explain the culture of squatting on the toilet in China. Although ‘western-style’ toilets are popular in China’s bigger cities and airports, there are still lots of squatting toilets, especially in rural areas. Weibo user “JaneyPan” says that from a physiological standpoint, squatting is the best toilet position. “If you are used to squatting, you just can’t poo by sitting on the toilet. But I agree that we need to clean the footprints afterwards.” She then adds: “Maybe the Switzerland railway should consider building squatting toilets on the carriages meant for Chinese tourists.”

“They think they can do anything they want because they have money.”

A large number of netizens also self-reflect, saying it is high time to promote civilized behaviour amongst Chinese travelers, and restore the country’s image. User “Beer Happiness” comments: “Many Chinese now want to travel abroad to see the world as we are getting wealthy. Yet, a small amount of Chinese tourists with low quality have damaged our nation’s image. Most foreigners haven’t been to China. They know things about China through the news. That’s why they think all Chinese people are rude.”

The Switzerland railway issue is not the first case where Chinese tourists are treated differently. Earlier this year, Mainland Chinese tourists were temporarily banned from entering the Wat Rong Khun temple, one of the top tourist destinations in Chiang Rai, Thailand, because of inappropriate toilet usage. The temple was reopened to Chinese tourists on the condition that their tour guides would be held responsible for cleaning the toilets. As user “Xj” suggests: “The tour guide should give etiquette lessons to its clients, especially to the middle-aged tourists. They think can do anything they want because they have money. This is wrong.”

The Chinese government has taken actions to stop the uncivilized behaviour of Chinese tourists abroad. The National Tourism Administration has started to track the actions of Chinese citizens abroad since last year April. Provincial and national authorities will be in touch with unruly citizens upon their return to China. This measurement came into effect after a group of Chinese travelers scalded a flight attendant with hot water and threatened to blow up a plane from Bangkok to Nanjing.

“The saddest thing when traveling abroad is to witness the bad behaviour of our people. They really harm China’s reputation,” says user “FPA”: “I understand the intention of these foreign countries who treat Chinese tourists differently. I mean, who wants to travel with Chinese tourists who are loud, rude and fight over small things?” In the end, like a lot of other netizens, user “FPA” calls on Chinese travelers to respect the locals and their culture: “We are making progress on this. I just hope foreign countries won’t discriminate against us.”

By Yiying Fan

This article was published on What’s on Weibo.

“Divorced Yet?” – Why China Has a Soaring Divorce Rate


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The divorce rate in China increased to 3.9 percent over the last year, with 3.63 million couples bringing their marriage to an end, according to the latest data released by the Ministry of Civil Affairs. The rate has been rising for twelve consecutive years since 2003. “Have you divorced today?” (今天你离了吗) has recently become a common joke between Chinese people. While some blame China’s social media, others say the reasons for the soaring divorce rates can be found elsewhere.

In its Social Service Development Statistical Bulletin, the Chinese government recently reported that the national divorce rate soared to 2.67 percent in 2014, compared to 1.05 percent in 2003, and 0.4 percent in 1985. The renowned Chinese magazine Banyuetan (半月谈) interviewed couples about their reasons for divorce in June, concluding that the mass adoption of social media across China is mostly responsible for the rising divorce rate in China. A lot of couples think that social media has turned them away from each other.

The report also stated that Chinese social media apps such as Weixin (微信, WeChat) and Momo (陌陌, Chinese ‘Tinder’) have made it easier to reach out to people, which has messed up a lot of marriages.

On Sina Weibo, over a dozen of media, including People’s Daily (人民日报) and Global Times (环球时报), recently took the topic online to initiate a discussion amongst netizens on whether social media is the killer of marriages in China.

“Social media have made having an affair so easy.”

User AkiraHunter commented: “It’s really not easy to maintain a relationship or a marriage. In my opinion, social media is a major problem. WeChat, Momo and Century Love (世纪佳缘) have become key tools when it comes to hooking up. Social media have made having an affair so easy.”

Other users, however, do not believe that social media are the biggest reason to trigger divorce. Some think that the higher divorce rate can be explained by the social progress and growing gender equality in China.

“I don’t think social media are to be blamed for the high divorce rate. It’s rather just a medium for expressing human thoughts and desires,” says user Night of Anhui Sound: “The divorce rate in China would have kept rising without the existence of social media too, as society is making more progress and genders are more equal. Women now know how to protect themselves in cases of domestic violence or extramarital affairs.”

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User Arale1 added: “We used to think that divorce is a shame for women. A lot of Chinese women put up with a dead marriage for the sake of their children, and because they needed financial support from their husbands. But nowadays, women don’t really need men to support them, as many women start to make more money than men. We have realized that we shouldn’t discommode ourselves anymore. Getting divorced is not the end of the world. On the contrary: it could be the beginning of a new happy life.”

“Nearly 40% of marriages in Beijing end in divorce.”

It’s worth noting that the comments above only apply to women in urban areas, where the divorce rate is much higher than in rural China. Nearly 40 percent of marriages in Beijing end in divorce – a remarkable peak compared to the national divorce rate of 2.67 percent.

Chinese women in big cities and urban regions now have more opportunities for higher education leading to well-paid jobs, which makes them financially independent. Young women in China don’t need to rely on their husband to support them anymore. Thus, money is no long the reason for not getting a divorce.

In rural areas, however, people are still not that tolerant of divorce. Many women are forced to stay in a broken marriage in order not to ruin their families’ reputation. It would also be more difficult for a divorced woman in rural China to find another man who is willing to marry her.

Another factor that cannot be neglected in this issue, is the China’s one child policy (独生子女政策). The post-1980s generation (80后) has been raised as an only child in the family, without having a siblings to interact with. This so-called “me generation” is often described as being selfish, impulsive and unwilling to compromise. Their parents urge them to get married, and then interfere with their marriages. The combination of these factors seems to be a major contributor to the higher divorce rate. According to the Ministry of Civil Affairs, of all couples filing for divorce in 2014, those born in the 80s had the highest divorce rate. “Lightning divorce” (闪婚闪离) has specifically been a trend among this ‘me generation’.

“We didn’t want to compromise, so we just got divorced.”

Unlike the dating culture in most western countries, Chinese couples usually do not live together before they decide to tie the knot. Typically, they date for a year or two – going to the movies, having dinner, occasionally having sex in a hotel room, or taking a few short trips together. Then the parents start to pressure them to get married. Some young women choose to get married in order not to become ‘leftover women‘ (剩女).

“Parents and other relatives won’t give you enough time to figure out with whom or when you want to be married. They believe it’s time to do it when you reach certain age. They pressure you so hard! We got married shortly after dating, and then realized we don’t even share the same values in life. As the only child in the family, no one wanted to compromise, so we just got divorced,” confesses Weibo user Kianase.

“Getting divorced for two dollars.”

In addition to the above reasons, the easy procedure and low cost of getting divorced in China also cause rising divorce rates. Before 2003, a reference from either the employer or a community leader was required for applying for a divorce. Many couples would not consider divorce due to the humiliating process. But now the rules have changed, and this is no longer needed. Unlike couples in other countries that are required to separate for a period of time before they can legally file for divorce, separation is not required in China. Couples can quickly, easily, and privately file for divorce. The divorce fee is less than two dollars and even free of charge in some cities.

However, these procedures are, again, changing. Some local civil affair departments have just launched the new policy of “limited numbers of divorce” (限号离婚), in hopes of decreasing impulsive divorces. Citizens in Guangzhou posted on Sina Weibo that they have to wait for at least a month to file for divorce.

The new policy finds online support. As the user Yefuping says: “Some government working efficiencies should be improved, while others should be slowed down. The speed of processing divorce should definitely be reduced, so that couples have some time to think twice before they sign the papers.”

By Yiying Fan

Images by Manya Koetse

This article was published on What’s on Weibo.

Weibo Women’s “Armpit Hair Contest”


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An online “Armpit Hair Contest” has fuelled social media discussions on female aesthetics in China. As many women posted selfies on Sina Weibo showing off their hairy armpits, not all netizens agreed on their beauty. But for initiator Xiao Meili, the contest has fulfilled its purpose.

On May 26, Chinese women’s rights advocate Xiao Meili initiated a contest of women’s underarm hair on Sina Weibo. She encouraged women to send ‘selfies’ with their arms proudly raised, showing off their hairy armpits. Forty-six women participated in the contest and posted photos under the hashtag “women underarm hair contest” (#女子腋毛大赛#). Amongst them were three of China’s five feminists who drew worldwide attention for their detention in March this year over their campaign for gender equality.

_83494865_chinaarmpithair3Xiao Meili, initiator of the armpit contest.

The contest, which ended on June 10, has been viewed over 1.54 million times on Sina Weibo and gained more than 1,300 comments up to June 11. Six winners were selected from the photo competition, based on the number of reposts and ‘likes’. The first place winner received a hundred free condoms, the second place got a vibrator, and the third place winners were rewarded with ten female urination devices.

“Why are hairy armpits a taboo for women?”

Weibo user “Zhu Xixi Loves Eating Fish” is the first-prize winner of the “Women’s Underarm Hair Contest”. She said she enjoyed her underarm hair and posted a picture of herself revealing her unshaved armpits while smiling with her eyes closed. In the added comment, she says: “When I was still heterosexual, my boyfriend at the time just took it for granted that I shaved my armpits for the sake of wearing sleeveless T-shirts – until I shaved all of his underarm hair and let him experience what girls go through.”

wow1Some of the participants. Winner Zhu Xixi is in the center.

“Chacha”, one of the second-prize winners, wrote on the contest page: “I love my underarm hair. It’s part of my body. I hope girls can reveal it without fear.” Another Weibo user called “Mimosa” commented to show her support and emphasize the importance of being true to oneself: “I think my hairy armpits look just fine, I never shave them,” she says: “I still wear vests in summer and I don’t feel ashamed of it. Most women have underarm hair. Why do we have to shave it? Why does it have to be a taboo? Do shaved armpits look beautiful?” She believes that there’s no point of listening to other people’s judgement as long as you are comfortable with yourself.

cef7c456jw1eslx9uyby3j20zk0no40pSecond-prize winner ‘Chacha’.

User “Poor and Bored” says that women shouldn’t shave their armpits for medical reasons: “Pulling or shaving armpits might lead to skin infection, as there are many lymph nodes in the armpits. It’s not good for your health. Nobody cares if you shave your armpits as long as you keep it clean.”

However, some netizens hold the idea that armpit hair is ugly and smelly. User “VansChan”, together with many other users, commented that shaving armpits has nothing to do with feminism. “Why is it relevant to women’s rights? Whether it’s men or women, revealing hairy armpits when wearing sleeveless tops is inelegant. We can smell it on the bus and subway. Allegedly, less than 30 percent of Chinese people use antiperspirants.”

“Shaving armpits has nothing to do with feminism”

User “Miseryzoe” is also an opponent of hairy armpits, and continuing the debate by stressing that men and women can’t be completely equal. She added: “I think hairy armpits for girls are ugly and disgusting. Shaving armpits has nothing to do with feminism. Most of these women who don’t shave their armpits are probably just lazy. I don’t believe they don’t think it looks terrible.”

After the storm of comments on the issue of women (not) shaving their armpits, Xiao Meili posted the history of shaving armpits on the Sina Weibo contest page. Shaving armpits started in the United States in 1915, when the fashion magazine BAZAAR published a photo of a woman raising her arms revealing shaved armpits. Then Gillette launched the razor for women to shave their armpits. The advertisement persuaded women to shave and “remove the objectionable hair” so that women would be beautiful, attractive and sanitary.

Gillette1920s marketing campaign pursuading women to shave their armpits.

Xiao Meili had stated that the purpose of Weibo’s “Women Underarm Hair Contest” is to free women’s armpits and open up the discussion on the “definition of feminine beauty”. Women should have the right to choose whether they want to shave their armpits or not. One of the users “Tender 10384” showed her support for Xiao, stating that “the goal of this contest is not to suggest that women should have hairy armpits, but to make women realise that they have the ownership to their own body – women shouldn’t be forced to shave armpits under the pressure of stereotypes or the mainstream aesthetic.”

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Shaving armpits is relatively new in China. According to Xiao Meili, it was not a widespread custom in until the 1990s. Since then, similarly to America and Europe in the 1920s, the idea was spread that women have to shave their armpits – making many believe that they have to in order to be accepted by society. The contest on Weibo has created a buzz amongst young Chinese women, helping them understand the difference between “can” and “have to”: they can shave their armpits, but they don’t have to.

By Yiying Fan, edited by Manya Koetse (This article was published on What’s on Weibo)

Chinese Relationship Guru to Women: Put Motherhood On Hold


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Do not get pregnant too soon – that is the message of China’s most popular relationship advisor to women on Weibo. The post became an instant hit, igniting online discussions of becoming a mom directly after marriage.

Chinese best-selling author Lu Qi (陆琪), also known as one of the most popular relationship advisors on Sina Weibo, advises Chinese women on his Weibo account not to have children too quickly after getting married. The post resonated with millions of female Weibo users since it was published on May 10.

In the post, titled “Do Not Become a Mother Too Young” (不要太早当妈), Lu Qi writes about how a young girl from rural China had to give up her dream of studying at the China Academy of Art because she got pregnant. She could have become an artist and live the life of her dreams, but instead, she got married young and had a child at 18 years old. She remained in the small rural town with its narrow-minded community, raising the baby instead of going to university. Lu also illustrates how the dreams of a myriad of other young Chinese women were crushed after being forced by their husbands and parents to have kids.

“So many places to explore, so many dreams to pursue.”

Lu Qi shared his thoughts with his 21 million followers on Weibo: “I always believe that it’s irresponsible for a woman to have a child unprepared, no matter whether it’s an accident or persuasion. A mother’s love is a woman’s nature, and some people make use of this ‘nature’ to limit and change women – and they usually get what they want, which is horrible.”

Lu Qi adds that he hopes that all girls will understand that motherhood is not about carrying on the family line, or something that parents or husband urge you to do, and also not something that happens by accident. Having and raising a child will change your life for good. Once you are a mother, you have to be responsible and are limited to do what you can do with your life. There are so many places to explore in the world and so many dreams to pursue – why not achieve these goals when you are still young and then having a child when you and your husband are both ready?

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Relationship guru Lu Qi’s Weibo post ‘do not become a mother too young’ has been viewed over 66 million times.

The hashtag #不要太早当妈# (‘do not become a mother too young’) has been viewed over 66 million times on Weibo in the past few days. An ongoing poll shows that 78% Weibo users support the idea of waiting a while before having babies.

Weibo user ‘Small Fox’ cannot agree more with Lu Qi. She replied on his post: “I would have preferred having babies later in life, but my husband and parents-in-law pushed me very hard to become pregnant as soon as possible. I really regretted my decision as all the efforts I’ve made on my career were in vain. I’m not even sure if I’m able to go back to work after my kid goes to kindergarten, and I don’t know what I can do.”

“I feel like I’m not living for myself.”

“I believe I have the right to say something here, as I’ve already had two kids at age 24,” Weibo user ‘Xiaoshan Niuniu’ writes. She confesses that she would have rather waited a while to have kids if she could choose again: “I feel like I’m not living for myself since I gave birth to my kids. It makes me so sad, especially when my husband leaves the kids alone with me so that he can go out and have fun with his friends. Both husband and wife need to shoulder the responsibility for bringing up the children. However, the society holds the view that the wife is supposed to take care of both the kids and the husband. We also have our own goals and dreams!”

In Chinese culture, women are expected to devote themselves to raising the children and looking after the husband regardless how successful or ambitious they are before tying the knot. In the recent decade, Chinese women increasingly fight for their rights. Female netizens express that it means a lot to them that male icon, Lu Qi, supports them in propagating his message to women: pursue your dreams, working hard for your career, and only become a mother when the time is right.

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This article was published on What’s on Weibo.

“Sitting the Month” – a Gift or Torture?


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After Mother’s Day, it is still a hot topic on China’s social media: how could Kate Middleton appear in public, high heels and all, only 10 hours after giving birth? In China, new moms are confined to their beds for weeks after giving birth. This tradition, called ‘sitting the month’, comes with many rules. Amongst them: no showering, no drinking cold water, no leaving the house.

Just like a lot of countries in the world, China celebrated Mother’s Day last weekend, on the second Sunday in May. While the whole nation was preoccupied with buying mum’s gifts, one online picture was still passionately discussed on Sina Weibo: the photo of The Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, leaving the hospital and showing up in public looking pretty and rested, only ten hour after giving birth to Princess Charlotte.

According to Chinese tradition, women are expected to rest indoors for a full month after giving birth, which is called “sitting the month” or “zuo yuezi” (坐月子) in Chinese.

Zuo yuezi” can be dated back to Western Han Dynasty (B.C. 202 – A.D.9) and was even mentioned in the 2,000-year-old Book of Changes, or I-Ching (易经). After giving birth, tradition keeps a new mother indoors for the month after the baby is born. The new mother is treated like a queen – waited on hand and foot. She doesn’t need to do anything; not taking care of the baby nor cooking for the family. Every year, millions of Chinese women submit to this practice. Women generally see it as a gift as well as a torture.

No taking showers, no brushing teeth.

During the traditional confinement period, new mothers sit around in pajamas for a month to recover from childbirth. There are a lot of rules, which many new moms are struggling with: no going outside, no stairs, no lifting, no cold drinks, no open windows, no air conditioning in summer or winter, and, inconveniently, no taking showers or brushing teeth. Even when breastfeeding, women lie on their sides instead of holding the baby.

From generation to generation, Chinese women are told if they do not undergo this confinement, they will suffer from health problems later in life. Therefore, Chinese netizens were shocked by Kate’s public appearance in her fancy high heels just ten hours after her delivery.

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One user called “Potty-mouthed Queen” posted on Sina Weibo: “I felt extremely weak and tired after I gave birth to my daughter. There’s no way I could stand and show up like Kate after 10 hours.”

Kate’s public display led to the reflection of Chinese tradition in modern society. Another user, “Lemon”, said: “I’ve been staying in bed for 10 days already and I really hate it. I can’t brush my teeth or take a shower. I’m not allowed to eat raw fruit or vegetables, or drink coffee, cold drinks or even cold water. I understand that these rules are aimed at restoring balance to the new mother’s body after childbirth, but I’ve had enough.”

“Comparing Western women with Chinese women is like comparing apples with oranges”.

Most Chinese still believe that women following the tradition of ‘sitting the month’ later will have less health problems than those who don’t. In addition, Chinese traditions still play an integral role in everyday life, as people tend to respect them and pass them on to their children: “It must make sense since the tradition has passed generation to generation,” said many users on Weibo.

Other netizens pointed out physical differences between Chinese and westerners. “It’s like comparing apples with oranges. We shouldn’t follow what western mothers do as the diet habits and geographical environments are different“, user Zhang Daidai commented on Weibo. According to her, Caucasian women eat a lot of beef and high protein food, making it unnecessary for them to ‘sit’ the month after delivering the baby. However, the user points out, they put on weight easier than most Chinese: “It’s all about the diet habits. Westerners already have more than enough calcium and protein in their body, thus, the loss of calcium and protein during labour doesn’t really affect them. On the contrary, Chinese women generally miss these nutriments in a great amount, so it’s better to endure it for a month and avoid serious health problems in the future.”

The practice of ‘sitting the month’ related to existing ideas about balancing yin and yang. If the yin and yang are balanced in the body, one will not get sick. If they are out of balance, people tend to get ill more easily.

In spite of all the arguments online, the benefits of ‘sitting the month’ are evident for many Chinese women. As one of the new mothers shared: “I was totally against the idea of confinement in childbirth. But after 30 days, I did feel like it helped me recover and the constant headache which always bothered me before delivery is now gone.

Despite the rapid speed of China’s modernization, the long-history practice of ‘sitting the month’ remains popular and treasured. Although the radiant post delivery Kate Middleton fascinated Chinese netizens, it is unlikely that Chinese new mums will step out in their high heels after giving birth any time soon.

Image sources:
The World of Chinese
Huffington Post
Baidu

This article was published on What’s on Weibo.