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Julie Hambleton
Julie Hambleton
February 10, 2021 ·  4 min read

China promotes education drive to make boys more ‘manly’

Who remembers Disney’s Mulan song, “I’ll Make A Man Out of You”? Well, according to the Chinese government, the need to make their boys more ‘manly’ is more urgent than ever before. While they aren’t sending their boys off to army training camps like in the Disney classic, they are implementing a new education system in schools in an attempt to “toughen up” and “defeminize” their young men. (1)

China To Start Education To Make Boys More ‘Manly’

Last May, China’s top advisory body Si Zefu said that the country’s boys had become “weak, timid, and self-abasing.” He says there is a trend for young Chinese boys towards feminization, threatening the entire nation’s survival. His solution? An education program to make the boys more ‘manly.’ (1)

According to Si Zefu, the reasons to blame are (1):

  • The home environment: Most Chinese boys are raised by their mothers and grandmothers
  • The growing popularity of certain Chinese male celebrities means that young boys don’t want to be army heroes anymore.

The plan is to hire more sports instructors and create a new physical education curriculum in elementary and high schools. (1)

The Public Response

While there are some in favor of the idea, agreeing that China’s young boys had become too “feminine” to protect the country adequately, the overarching response was backlash and outrage. (2)

Most see the statement as sexist and one that perpetuates archaic gender stereotypes. Many people are speaking out against it on Weibo, a microblogging platform. (2)

“Is feminisation now a derogatory term?” one Weibo user asked. (1)

Another said: 

“Boys are also humans… being emotional, timid or gentle, these are human characteristics.” (1)

“There are 70 million more men than women in this country,” claimed another. “No country in the world has such a deformed sex ratio. Isn’t that masculine enough?” (1)

Others pointed out that this initiative was entirely male-driven and that no women have supported the new education. (1)

The Spirit of Yang

In China, the spirit of yang refers to male attributes. The goal is to build a new education curriculum for boys built around this principle. They called it the “Proposal to Prevent the Feminization of Male Youths.” (1)

Many people refute this, saying that education isn’t about teaching children to conform to specific gender norms, but rather how to be good and productive citizens. (2)

State broadcaster CCTV posted this on their Weibo account:

“Education is not simply about cultivating ‘men’ and ‘women.’ It’s more important to develop a willingness to take responsibility,” they wrote. “Men show ‘the spirit of yang’ in bearing, spirit and physique, which is a kind of beauty, but ‘the spirit of yang’ does not simply mean ‘masculine behavior.’” (2)

China Wants Their Boys To Be More ‘Manly’ By Being Soldiers and Sportsmen

Under China’s one-child policy, many little boys ended up being much more pampered than usual. From here, a stricter idea of what “masculinity” means was created. (2) Many also say that the Chinese male pop stars are to blame, leaning towards a more “feminine” look. (1)

Television censors have attempted things like blurring out a pop star’s pierced ears. Any celebrity who is too well-kept is called “little fresh meat” by many in a derogatory way. (1) Some parents have even gone so far as to enroll their sons in boot camps to make them tougher and more “masculine.” (2)

The Chinese president wants China to become an international soccer superpower. So far, attempts have been unsuccessful, but this hasn’t stopped the Chinese government from finding other role models to make their boys more ‘manly.’ (1)

Despite their desire to encourage their boys to be more masculine, their “too feminine” celebrities aren’t allowed to be anything but squeaky-clean. Tattoos and piercings get blurred out, and they are raked in the media if they do anything the government doesn’t like. (2)

Physical Education In Need of A Revamp

There are plenty of Chinese citizens – students and parents – who agree that physical education could use some updating. Chinese schools historically have a focus on academics, with phys-ed taking a back seat. (2)

“Physical education at the junior high level definitely needs to be improved because a lot of people don’t care about this. They only care about academics,” says one Chinese high school student. “I remember a lot of classmates sitting on the sidelines during P.E. lessons, doing their homework.” (2)

He did, however, think that it wouldn’t actually make much of a difference in how “masculine” or “feminine” the boys decide they want to be.

“I think the main focus of this is about increasing physical strength, and what they mean by ‘masculinity’ is unclear,” he continued.”  “I think it’s more important to come from one’s upbringing and daily habits. I personally don’t think using this label will have much effect on physical education habits.” (2)

There is a fear that this emphasis on masculinity and physical capabilities will lead to bullying, especially those with other sexual orientations or gender identities, and will cause a lack of diversity and inclusivity. (2)

Most teachers say that the focus should be on developing well-rounded students, not students with specific traits. (2) We don’t yet know what this programming will look like, but of course, the teachers’ and students’ opinions likely won’t matter when the final decision is made.

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  1. China promotes education drive to make boys more ‘manly’. BBC. Kerry Allen. February 2021.
  2. A ‘Masculinity Crisis’? China Says the Boys Are Not All Right.” NY Times. Tiffany May. February 5, 2021.