Essay: There are cultural explanations for why that man next to you on the Shanghai subway has his finger in his ear, or his shirt sticking out. Some, however, are ready for grooming and good looks to become as important for Chinese men as a good job and
BEIJING - Recently in London somebody had the great idea of putting out a call for people to take mobile-phone photos of handsome men on the city's Underground and then post the pictures on the Internet for everyone to enjoy.
Within just a few days, tens of thousands of pictures were up on display: a debonair older man reading a novel, a dreamy-looking guy with his eyes closed leaning against the door, a young Apollo playing video games, a short-haired bloke with well-formed muscles. In brief, it looks as if London is a paradise full of only the most handsome chaps.
The concept was soon picked up by Douban.com, the Chinese social networking website. Yes, that's right, someone thought it wise to put out a similar online "Call for handsome Chinese guys on the Underground." Let's just say that photographs most certainly did not come streaming in.
However, a most passionate response was elicited by a very different subsequent appeal to the plugged-in masses: Please send in photos of "the most horrid men on China's subways." Soon there was a digital display of wonders: a man picking his nose, another digging out his earwax, yet another man spraying saliva while talking loudly on his cell phone, and one particularly relaxed fellow putting his belt on in public. One wonders about the pictures that were not taken.
What's wrong with the world!? Have the cute guys all really gone to London, leaving the unsightly ones behind in Beijing?
I must admit that it's probably true that handsome men concentrate in London. Once when I was crossing a street there, a tall blond lad ran past me. He was wearing an Oxford shirt and a pair of tight-fitting blue pants. His tie flew in the air while he ran. His brown postman-style messenger bag hung diagonally over his shoulder.
And when I boarded the train, I saw another guy leaning next to the automatic door with clean and neat short hair. He was wearing a windbreaker and a brown check scarf, simple and elegant.
Back in a Beijing station, a man in front of me was talking to his girlfriend. When he turned around, I saw a whole layer of dandruff on his jacket. Next to him, a portly man grumbled "He – Pei!" and spat a clot of phlegm under the seat.
Now I do believe that some British men have dandruff and also have to spit sometimes. I also believe that Chinese men can look smart in an Oxford shirt, a pair of nicely cut pants and a trench coat. The question is "Why don't we see them?"
Now, "properly dressed" and "smartly dressed" are two different notions. If many men in London look smart, most Chinese men don't even qualify as "properly dressed." Personal upbringing and cultivation are the fundamental reasons. But having a single value system in Chinese society probably also explains why.
Boys next door
In every Chinese boy's youth, there's always a "rival" – the boy next door. This other people's son was always at the top of the class and artistically gifted. When he grows up, he is bound to make big money, have a wonderful wife and raise a genius son just like he him…
On the other hand, tall good-looking, nicely-mannered and physically endowed boys are often used as a negative example. If you look up to him and care about your looks, you'll never make it to the university…!
In short, we are brought up to think that professional success is the unique value. A stylish image, appropriate manners, and smart appearance are never real concerns.
Wang Fong, the editor-in-chief of China's GQ magazine, says: "Chinese men care very much about their career and family, while they have difficulty in accepting the idea that somehow men also have to dress up."
A survey conducted before the launching of L'Officiel Hommes, a new Chinese men's magazine, revealed that for most Chinese men, fortune and social status are the sole priorities. As for their build and looks, who cares!
Queer eyes for straight guys
Although the female fashion and beauty industries are both booming in China, they have a relatively short history in China – and men's fashion, even shorter.
Only now are male fashion magazines getting their Chinese editions -- beyond GQ there's also Esquire and Men's Health – and it may begin to have an effect on men's appearance and grooming. Still, it's undeniable that most of these magazines' readers are either those rare few who are stylish anyway, or those who are gay --though these magazines will deny it.
There is hope. The American TV show "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" is now broadcast in China, and is slowly climbing in the ratings. In each episode, five tasteful gays come to the rescue of a hopeless straight male.
Guan Zhong, an ancient Han sage, said "Only in a wealthy society are there people of good manners." But I don't feel like waiting any longer. I wish there were a local version of that American reality show. I'd like to see how those picky gay friends handle those guys picking their noses on the subway.
Read the original article in Chinese
Photo - Jonathan Kos-Read