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China Sex & Gender

Bold Breastfeeding Photos of Kyrgyzstan’s President’s Daughter Spark Debate on Weibo

The daughter of President Atambayev of Kyrgyzstan, Aliya Shagieva, recently sparked controversy for posting photos of breastfeeding her newborn son on Instagram. On Sina Weibo, Chinese netizens applaud Aliya for breaking taboos around breastfeeding in public – a recurring topic of debate on Chinese social media.

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The daughter of President Atambayev of Kyrgyzstan, Aliya Shagieva, recently sparked controversy for posting photos of breastfeeding her newborn son on Instagram. Aliya’s pictures are a bold statement in a country where the influence of religious ideology over how women should dress and act is considerable. On Sina Weibo, many netizens applaud Aliya for breaking taboos around breastfeeding – also a recurring topic of debate on Chinese social media.

Photos of the 20-year-old daughter of Kyrgyzstan President Almazbek Atambayev, Aliya Shagieva, breastfeeding her baby are being widely shared and discussed on Chinese social media this weekend.

Aliya Shagieva made headlines earlier this month after she posted multiple revealing photos on her Facebook and Instagram (@homesickbluess), sparking a storm of criticism in Kyrgyzstan, where an estimated 80 percent of the population is Muslim.

Aliya Shagieva is the youngest daughter of the leader of Kyrgyzstan. She got married last year and revealed her pregnancy in March, when she posted a picture of her baby bump.

After she gave birth to her son, Tagir, she posted multiple photos of her breastfeeding her baby.

The photos sparked controversy in Kyrgyzstan, with many saying it is wrong for a woman to show off her body and with people calling Aliya “shameless” and a “disgrace to her father.”

Aliya’s father, President Almazbek Atambayev, made international headlines last year when he attacked people who are critical of women who wear more revealing outfits. At a press conference, he stated that women are more prone to become radicalized if they put on Islamic dress, saying: “Women in mini-skirts don’t become suicide bombers.”

According to a report published by the Forum of Women’s NGOs of Kyrgyzstan, the influence of religious ideology in Kyrgyzstan “substantially contributes to discrimination against women.” Bermet Stakeeva, programme officer at the forum, previously told The Guardian: “Islam has a strong influence on women, how to dress and act and it’s now being discussed widely, in mosques and on television, that women should live moral lives.”

Aliya responded to the criticism online saying that it is not right to sexualize breasts this way and that “the most important purpose of female breasts is to breastfeed” and that it is “nothing to be ashamed of.” She emphasized that women’s breasts are not men’s pleasure objects.

Sina Hubei and other Chinese media accounts posted the photos and Aliya’s statements on Weibo on April 21, soon triggering thousands of reactions. The majority of netizens supported Aliya, saying that breastfeeding is nothing to be ashamed of and applauding her for her stance and braveness.

“Kyrgizstan is a country where the majority of people are Muslim (..),” one person commented: “It’s good that she’s the daughter of the President, otherwise she could’ve been killed for this,” one netizen wrote.

“I saw these photos on WeChat and I really admire Aliya’s bravery,” one girl wrote.

“Only human thoughts are dirty, not any part of the body,” a popular comment said.

Many Weibo users wrote comments such as: “She is completely right. Breasts are for feeding your baby, there’s nothing offensive about it.”

Breastfeeding is a recurring topic on Chinese social media. In 2015, an incident where a mother was shamed for breastfeeding on the Beijing subway caused huge controversy on Weibo, even attracting the attention of UNICEF and Beijing authorities.

One Weibo user at the time said the mother should “pay attention to her manners in public place” and that she should not “expose her sex organ.” Weibo netizens collectively responded to the issue; some agreeing that breastfeeding in public is inappropriate, while others defended the woman.

Although the majority of Weibo netizens show their support for Aliya Shagieva in normalizing breastfeeding, not all netizens were supportive: “It’s great that your motherly love is so big, but why do you need to show it off like this?”

Others agreed with this stance, saying: “We all know how mothers feed their babies, but you’re the daughter of the president, why do you want to show us? I don’t want to see it.”

“What is she doing not wearing any pants,” one female commenter said: “She’s shameless.”

As for the young mother Aliya Shagieva herself – it seems that she is no longer active on social media after her photos attracted the attention of national and international media. On April 23, her Instagram account @homesickbluess was no longer available.

– By Manya Koetse

©2017 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, Sino-Japanese relations and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China Books & Literature

Leftover in China: The Women Shaping the World’s Next Superpower by Roseann Lake

In a new book on China’s Leftover Women, author Roseann Lakes highlights the strength and merit of China’s unmarried women.

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With Leftover in China – The Women Shaping the World’s Next Superpower, author Roseann Lake brings a deeply insightful and captivating account of China’s so-called ‘leftover women’ – the unmarried females who are shaping the future of the PRC. A must-read book for this Spring Festival holiday.

As the count-down for China’s most important event of the year, the Spring Festival, has started, countless unmarried daughters and sons anticipate the reunion with their parents and relatives with some horror. “Why are you still single?” is amongst the top-dreaded questions they are facing during the New Year’s dinners at the family dining table.

More so than the bachelor sons, it’s China’s unmarried daughters in their late twenties and early thirties who came to be at the center of a media storm over the past decade. The so-called ‘leftover women’ (剩女 shèngnǚ) have become a source of critique, banter, worry, fascination, and inspiration for the media, both in- and outside China.

The term shèngnǚ became a catchphrase ever since the Chinese Ministry of Education listed it as one of the newest additions to Chinese vocabulary in 2007. The shengnü label is mainly applied to unmarried (urban) women in their late twenties or early thirties who are generally well-educated and goal-oriented, but who came to be associated with ‘leftover food’ because of their single status and long-standing beliefs about the right age to marry.

One 2015 survey by Chinese dating site Zhenai, that was held amongst 1452 single men and women, shows that 50% of Chinese men think that women who are still single at the age of 25 are ‘leftovers.’

 

SILVER LININGS

“I’m pro-active about finding a partner, but not to the extent that it gets in the way of other ambitions.”

 

After the success of much-acclaimed books such as Factory Girls (Leslie T. Chang 2008) and Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China (Leta Hong Fincher 2014), Leftover in China: The Women Shaping the World’s Next Superpower  (2018) by Roseann Lake, Cuba correspondent for The Economist, brings fresh insights into the role and position of young women in a rapidly-changing society.

At the root of the ‘leftover women’ phenomenon and the media frenzy around it lies China’s One-Child Policy (1979-2015), the country’s imbalanced sex ratio, and traditional perceptions on wives and mothers being the building blocks of Chinese families and the nation at large.

Leftover in China is Roseann’s Lake first (non-fiction) book.

Lake describes how the onset of China’s One-Child Policy and a traditional preference for sons, together with the available ultrasound technology in the late 1980s, led to an enormous rise of abortions on female fetuses. The gender imbalance it brought about is most severe in China’s rural areas; in places such as Tianmen, Hubei, the gender ratio is a shocking 176 males to 100 females. It leaves villages full of men who are unable to find a bride and start a family. Guānggùn (光棍), they’re also called, literally the “bare branches” of their hometowns.

While the ‘bare branches’ reside in China’s more rural areas, the ‘leftover women’ live in China’s more urban areas. The ‘bare branches’ and ‘leftover women’ both have difficulties in finding a partner, albeit for radically different reasons. For the rural men, there simply are not enough marriage candidates, whereas for the urban women, there are not enough suitable marriage candidates. A major difference between the countryside and the urban environment is that China’s cities have seen a much better-balanced gender ratio, with parents pampering and pressuring their only child – whether it was a boy or girl.

Although Lake does explain the “gruesome cloud” of China’s One-Child Policy and female foeticide and the demographic problems it has triggered, she especially focuses on the “silver lining,” which is that the sociopolitical circumstances have also ‘forced’ parents to value their daughters more than ever before. Over the past decades, millions of Chinese daughters have been given the opportunities and liberties their mothers and grandmothers never had. Their increased educational and professional prospects have made marriage somewhat less of a priority for them.

While China’s unmarried, urban woman are often stigmatized by Chinese state media for being too ‘spoilt’, ‘picky’, or ‘promiscuous’ to marry, Roseann Lake casts an entirely different light on China’s urban bachelorettes as being determined, independent, and self-assured. “I’m pro-active about finding a partner,” one of the ‘leftover women’ in Lake’s book says: “But not to the extent that it gets in the way of other ambitions.”

 

CHANGING TIMES, CHANGING LOVE

“Leftover women are resisting ultimatums to wed because they want to marry for love, and not just for the sake of being married.”

 

Lake’s strong connection to Chinese culture and society jumps off the pages of Leftover in China, in which she playfully and compellingly offers a window into the female experience in modern China, explaining fascinating concepts that are unique to modern-day society. One such example is the ‘phantom third stories’ phenomenon; two-story houses with an unfinished ‘fake’ third story, built by unmarried men and their family to make the house appear more grandiose in the hopes of attracting a wife.

The interest in China started when Lake took a sabbatical from her job with the French government in New York, and went to Beijing. “I was only supposed to stay for three months,” she tells What’s on Weibo: “But shortly into my stay I bought a hot orange electric – Chinese – ‘Vespa’, and that changed everything.”

Journalist Roseann Lake.

As Lake was riding her scooter, which she lovingly nicknamed ‘Fanta’, she took in the city and all of its aspects, including its love and romantic relationships. On what first caught her attention within this field, she explains that it started one afternoon as she was riding her scooter in Beijing and spotted a very angry Chinese woman on the side of the road, screaming profanities at a man who appeared to be her romantic partner. The altercation turned violent, and it was not the first time Lake had witnessed such a scene between couples in public.

“I felt that something seemed afoul with the state of romantic relationships in China,” she says – which was a start of her interest and research into romance, love, and the role of Chinese women in this. “For thousands of years, marriage has largely been a mercenary, transactional agreement in China, made with the best interests of the key stakeholders – the parents – in mind.”

Romantic love as a reason for marriage in China, Lake says, is a relatively new concept. She tells What’s on Weibo: “Down the line, this better helped me understand the situation of leftover women – many of which, as I discovered, were resisting ultimatums to wed because they wanted to marry for love, and not just for the sake of being married.”

The topic of China’s changing marriage values and the generation gap in perceptions on love and marriage between parents and their daughters recurringly comes back in Lake’s book, for which she followed the lives of various ‘leftover women’ over a period of several years. Through the stories of women such as Christy, the CEO of a successful Beijing PR firm, or June, a “return turtle” who came back to the mainland after graduating from Yale, readers can get a grasp of the pressures and problems many single women are facing in China today.

An important lesson to draw from this book is that the phenomenon of China’s ‘leftover women’ cannot be explained through a unidimensional lens. Lake highlights China’s historical, societal, cultural, and economic dimensions in her approach of why this large group of unmarried women, despite all of their personal, academic and professional achievements, are still being labeled through their single status.

 

THE TOAST OF THE NATION

“There is irony and absurdity in the fact that these women are referred to as “leftover” but are really such an important part of China’s future.”

 

In 2016, an ad campaign by skincare brand SK-II titled ‘She Finally Goes to the Marriage Corner’ (她最后去了相亲角) gained huge popularity on Chinese social media. The short video showed how women, pressured to get married by their families and society, pluck up the courage to speak out and get their message heard.

The video received much praise, with many women protesting against the derogatory ‘leftover women’ label. CCTV recently also posted a feature article on social media in which various women plead for the elimination of the “leftover woman” or shèngnǚ label.

The campaign by SKII in 2016 ignited a movement that protested the ‘leftover’ label.

Why, then, would Lake still refer to the ‘leftover’ label on the cover of her book? About the book’s title, Lake says: “There was a different title that I preferred, but my publisher disagreed with it, so we compromised on ‘Leftover in China.’ It has grown on me. I’m told that for non-fiction books, the subtitle is just as important as the title itself, and I think “The Women Shaping the World’s Next Superpower” is apt. It underscores the irony and absurdity of the fact that these women are referred to as “leftover” but are really such an important part of China’s future.”

Throughout the course of writing this book, Lake spoke to many experts on the importance of China’s young (unmarried) women in shaping Chinese economics. One of them is Dr. Kaiping Peng, the founding chair of the Department of Psychology at Tsinghua University, who is quoted as saying: “The Chinese economic miracle has two secrets. The first are migrant workers, and the second are young, educated women.”

All the love, time, and money that Chinese parents and grandparents have invested in their only (grand)daughter has now paid off – not just for them, but for the economy at large. These well-educated and hard-working women play a powerful role in running China’s economic engine.

 

THE FUTURE OF CHINA’S LEFTOVER WOMEN

“Few people know that the most imbalanced year for sex ratio at birth in China was actually 2005.”

 

When talking about the future of China’s ‘leftover women,’ Lake suspects that they will continue to get married later in life or not at all – on trend with what is also happening in countries such as Japan or South Korea. “This would be much to the dismay of the Chinese government” Lake says, “- which desperately wants babies, but hasn’t done much to incentivize or make it easier for women to have them.”

Social media platforms such as Weibo and WeChat also play an important role in the lives of these women: “When I was living in China and writing the first drafts of this book, there were a few groups on Weixin [WeChat] where women would chat, share articles, and plan gatherings. They’ve dramatically multiplied! More content is shared, more ideas are exchanged, and the ease of these platforms means that Chinese women abroad can easily remain a part of the conversation.”

Lake is more worried about the so-called guānggùn, China’s ‘bare branches’: “We all may imagine that the worst years for gendercide were in the 80s and 90s, when population controls were stricter in China, but I think few people know that the most imbalanced year for sex ratio at birth in China was actually 2005. That means that boys who are now 13 years old will likely have a harder time finding a wife than any generations of men before them.”

This Spring Festival, Lake is anticipating the launch of her book (release February 13, 2018), which has already been listed as one of the must-read books for 2018 by the South China Morning Post.

For China’s many bachelorettes, they’ll just have to face the nagging questions at the New Year’s dining table, but they need not worry too much about being called ‘leftover women.’ Through books such as these, the term loses its derogatory tone – it is becoming a badge of honor instead.

 
Leftover in China: The Women Shaping the World’s Next Superpower by Roseann Lake is now available for pre-sale:
Get on Amazon: Leftover in China: The Women Shaping the World’s Next Superpower
Get on iTunes: Leftover in China: The Women Shaping the World’s Next Superpower
Get on Book Depository: Leftover in China: The Women Shaping the World’s Next Superpower

By Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2018 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Memes & Viral

“Soft Drink Prostitution” – How Beverage Bottles on Cars are Used for Soliciting Sex Outside of Chinese Campuses

People looking for paid sex have found a creative way of letting others know. In the world of so-called “soft drink prostitution,” green tea services are cheaper than Red Bull ones.

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The topic of “soft drink prostitution” has been circulating on Chinese social media over the past few days. It is a phenomenon where parked cars outside of Chinese campuses will have beverages on their rooftops, signaling students that they are willing to pay for sex. Different drinks represent different prices.

Over the past few days, various Chinese media outlets have been reporting about a new phenomenon popping up at Chinese campuses dubbed “soft drink prostitution.”

Just as shoes dangling from trees or telephone wire in many countries are associated with places where people can buy drugs, putting a drink on the roof or hood of a parked car in China (preferably a BMW), would mean the driver is soliciting prostitution.

A pet bottle on a car roof means someone is looking for some (paid) action.

Many recent articles about this issue, however, have been taken offline over the past two days from news sites such as Sina.com or Sohu.com.

Is it a new urban myth or is ‘soft drink prostitution’ in fact happening? What’s on Weibo dug deeper to find out more about what this phenomenon entails.

 

Different drinks represent different prices.”

 

The recent coverage of the ‘soft drink prostitution’ phenomenon in Chinese media was first triggered by a notice on the official website of Tianjin Normal University on December 11, 2017, titled: “About the Disposal of ‘Rooftop Beverages’ on Cars From Outside the Campus” (“关于清理校园外来车辆“车顶放置饮料”的情况通报”).

Screenshot of the Dec 11 announcement on the Tianjin Normal University website about parked cars with beverage bottles on them.

The notice explained that since the beginning of the semester, campus security started noticing that parked cars outside the campus gates would have beverage bottles placed on their roofs or hoods with the purpose of “luring in female students to prostitute themselves,” and that “different drinks represent different prices.”

The notice also included a warning that it is illegal for people to perform sexual acts in return for money or goods, regardless of whether such transactions would occur between people of the same sex or opposite sex.

 

This does indeed happen in various places.

 

Around December 29, 18 days after the original announcement was allegedly placed, news of the Tianjin University phenomenon started spreading on social media in China.

On one message board, netizens questioned the veracity of the announcement, as it was nowhere to be found on the official website of the Tianjin Normal University.

I’ve attentively examined the website of the Tianjin Normal University,” one commenter wrote: “And this particular news was not on the site. On December 11, they did post two articles, but one was about bank card skimming and the other was about the illegal recruitment of students for training programs. Also, the font used in the screenshot and that used on the official website is not the same.”

Although the critical readers determined this must be a fake news item, there were others who said that even if it were fake news, “this [practice] does [indeed] happen in various places.”

 

It may lead to misunderstandings.

 

As rumors about the Chinese campuses “soft drink prostitution” kept circulating online, news sources such as Modern Express (现代快报) and The Paper first covered the issue on January 2, 2018.

According to the The Paper, the announcement was, in fact, true, but that it was taken offline by the University because it “may lead to misunderstandings” because of its “wording.”

On Weibo, some netizens said that the article was more of a “manual” for students to how the phenomenon works than an actual warning against it.

According to a spokesperson at the University, the announcement concerned “a normal procedure,” and was not meant to attract so much attention online.

The spokesperson compared such a warning to regular announcements about pickpockets, and emphasized that no students had entered the parked cars.

 

Green tea represents the offer to pay 300 yuan (±45$), whereas a can of Red Bull stands for 600 yuan (±90$).

 

So-called “soft drink prostitution” is actually not an entirely new phenomenon around Chinese campuses. Various other media outlets and reporters, such this vlogger called ‘SheCar’on Baidu TV or this online newspaper already reported about the issue in 2016, explaining the difference between drinks types.

A bottle of mineral water means 200 yuan (30$), green tea represents the offer to pay 300 yuan (±45$), for instance, whereas a can of Red Bull stands for 600 yuan (±90$).

During a days-long experiment in which a Baidu TV presenter parked the car outside of various universities in Hunan with a beverage bottle on the rooftop, it turned out that several students -some female and one male- actually did pick up the bottle and got into the car.

In 2016, Sina news explained that the parked cars outside of campuses are mostly BMW brands. If a person gets into the car that is not to the driver’s liking, they can just say “they are waiting for someone.”

On Weibo, some netizens are surprised that the rumors and alleged “fake news” announcement have turned out to be true: “I always thought this was just some sexual fantasy,” one person comments.

There are also people who say that now that this phenomenon is more widely covered, it actually “reveals what people want to hide” (“此地无银三百两”).

Other people also point out that the beverage bottle trick does not always work. As one commenter writes: “I saw this in front of my school once. But no one got into the car all day. Finally, a street sweeper took the drink from the car roof and drank it.”

By Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2018 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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What’s on Weibo provides social, cultural & historical insights into an ever-changing China. What’s on Weibo sheds light on China’s digital media landscape and brings the story behind the hashtag. This independent news site is managed by sinologist Manya Koetse. Contact info@whatsonweibo.com. ©2014-2017

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