November 28, 2021


Only The Finest Women

A Chinese Word Describing ‘Beautiful Women’ Is Taking an Ugly Turn

The Chinese word yuan refers to “beautiful gals.” But the word’s modern utilization, particularly on social media platforms, is everything but complimentary.

About the earlier number of months, social media users and some state media retailers have adopted the phrase and paired it with a further word to mock females they see as engaged in attention-seeking pursuits on the internet. Despite the fact that individuals have very long harbored adverse perceptions of mingyuan — or “socialites” — accusing them of flaunting faux prosperity, the phrase took on one more connotation previous month when shots of stylish women of all ages posing for pics at Buddhist temples went viral on Chinese social media.

You can pay attention to an audio variation of this short article via “China Stories,” a SupChina-developed podcast sharing the ideal composing on China.

The backlash in opposition to the girls, labeled foyuan — which loosely translates to “female Buddhist socialite” in English — was swift, with many social media users accusing them of capitalizing on faith for revenue, which is illegal in China. In advance of extended, social platforms this sort of as Douyin and Xiaohongshu banned the accounts of prominent foyuan and deleted their posts for indulging in internet marketing needs.

But the disappearance of foyuan on the net has been changed by strategies versus feminine influencers considered also quite or inappropriately dressed for their scenarios. Conditions these types of as bingyuan, liyuan, and yiyuan, or “bedridden beauties,” “socialite divorcees,” and “pretty physicians,” respectively, have exploded on social media.

So when did yuan, utilized to describe beautiful women, just take an ugly change?

The backlash was previously simmering very last yr following an imposter snuck into a team chat designed up of Shanghai feminine socialites on messaging app WeChat. They then proceeded to expose their fancy life — afternoon teas, luxurious staycations, and designer purses — that they shared on social media as pretend. The article went viral, turning yuan into a synonym for vacuous, grasping social media influencers.

“The emergence of the phrase yuan has reworked the primary beneficial indicating into a derogatory 1 for the reason that male-dominated society has ambivalent attitudes towards women’s attractiveness: admiration and suspicion,” Lily Yu, affiliate professor of translation research at the University of Nottingham Ningbo China, informed Sixth Tone. “The deep-rooted notion of ‘beauty infidelity’ typically prospects to harsh criticism or destructive speculation, or even vicious derogation of (females).”

Yu mentioned that the initial that means of yuan has been distorted to suit a sexist narrative, allowing it to be made use of to satirize, deride, and insult young women of all ages.

“The word yuan is 1 of the several optimistic text in Chinese to aspect the radical  (that means woman),” she stated, referring to the components that comprise Chinese characters. She extra that the female radical is mainly connected with derogatory terms for women or supposedly female actions, which include adultery, jealousy, and prostitution.

Some feminist students have also pointed out that the character for females by itself — — visually seems to be a lady bowing to a male, though the Chinese character for men precedes women in the phrase gender equality, nannü pingdeng. The Chinese word to explain guys viewing brothels, piao chang, also has woman characters. 

“This is a misogynistic phenomenon at the linguistic stage, reflecting the frame of mind of a male-dominated society toward gals,” Yu claimed. “Irresponsible derogatory or even personal assaults are damaging to most viewers, as after looking at these types of facts after a whilst, specified concepts will take root in the head.” 

The remarks and interactions involving the matter on social media are telling, and the state-operate People’s Day by day has accused foyuan and bingyuan of “destroying our temples and hospitals.” Other influential outlets, which includes China Central Television and the Health Occasions, have also criticized them, with the latter accusing bingyuan of profiting from or even faking their health problems.

The targets of these attacks have been matter to trolling and on line bullying. After remaining attacked on the web for sharing pictures in which they could be noticed smiling and posing in medical center beds, several females have posted their professional medical certificates to demonstrate they weren’t faking their illness.

Let’s end hoping to confirm we are not yuan. Alternatively, we are all yuan.

“I can’t believe that that I’m now termed ‘bingyuan’ — I’m so indignant,” 1 woman wrote on social system Xiaohongshu pursuing her thyroid medical procedures. “As another person who likes to document my existence online, I required to share my story, hoping to aid many others in related predicaments.”

Bai Meijiadai, a lecturer at Liaoning University’s College of Journalism and Interaction, sees the stigmatization of yuan as a final result of a wider on the web trend relating to the absence of factual information and context involving viral content material.

“(The media or men and women who criticized yuan) use photos of women of all ages from social media without fact-checking or verification and then publish the articles or blog posts in the form of information,” she stated.“This wants to be rectified and transformed.”

And tens of thousands of women of all ages are already stepping in to adjust the on-line discourse, banding with each other versus the misogynistic use of yuan and its attempts to stigmatize women as a group. Several are not only embracing the term but also reclaiming its positive roots, contacting themselves xueyuan, or female learning socialite zhijiaoyuan, female volunteer socialite and yishuyuan, female art socialite.

“Let’s quit seeking to show we are not yuan,” wrote one consumer on microblogging platform Weibo. “Instead, we are all yuan.”

Editor: Bibek Bhandari.

(Header graphic: James Boast/Ikon Illustrations or photos/Men and women Visible, reedited by Sixth Tone)