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Storm of Criticism over Proposal to Lower China’s Legal Marriage Age to 18

National People’s Congress deputy Huang Xihua (黄细花) has called for lowering China’s legal marriage age, from 22 for men and 20 for women, to a minimum age of 18. On Weibo, many people are not happy about the proposal – with some finding it outright shocking.

Manya Koetse

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National People’s Congress deputy Huang Xihua (黄细花) has called for lowering China’s legal marriage age, from 22 for men and 20 for women, to a minimum age of 18. On Weibo, many people are not happy about the proposal – with some finding it outright shocking.

The topic “Legal Age for Marriage Lowered to 18” (#法定婚龄降到18岁#) became trending on Sina Weibo on March 4 after Huang Xihua (黄细花), a National People’s Congress deputy, called for China’s legal age for marriage to be lowered to 18 during China’s Two Sessions.

According to Sina’s social media channel “People’s Topics” (@全民话题), Huang argues that lowering the legal age of marriage is not necessarily to promote early marriage, but to give more rights to young people.

In 2012, Huang already proposed to change China’s marriage law, something which also triggered controversy at the time. The current marriageable age in China is 22 for men, 20 for women.

 

“If you want people to have more babies, just cut off the country’s internet after 8 pm.”

 

On Weibo, many netizens are not happy about Huang’s proposal. Some even say they find it “shocking”, and are afraid that such a measure will negatively affect the status of women in Chinese society and increase the nation’s divorce rates.

“Won’t this lead to a drop in the percentage of women with a higher education?”, some wonder.

Many others have similar worries. As one person writes: “Lowering the age of marriage will lead to more young people taking wrong steps in life. Especially for women; getting married at a young age and having children will lead to fewer women pursuing higher education.” Others also think that 18-year-olds are not yet experienced enough to get married.

“This is all just about increasing China’s birth rates,” one person comments: “But if you want people to have more babies, just cut off the internet across the country after 8 pm – that’ll work too.”

China is currently facing demographic challenges as society is aging. Although the implementation of the “Two Child Policy” in October 2015 caused an increase in birth rates, the figure still falls short of government’s estimations for the population to reach 1.42 billion by 2020, and might be too low to balance the consequences of the aging society and the shrinking workforce.

Earlier this year Chinese state media hinted at legalizing surrogacy to increase birth rates, something which greatly angered many people on social media who felt that women were treated as “breeding machines.”

In 2016, China also canceled the ‘late marriage leave‘, the 30-day paid leave when getting married over the age of 25. The paid leave was introduced at the time of the one-child policy to encourage people to postpone marriage and childbirth (“晚生晚育”) in order to help control China’s population growth.

 

“The safety of the air we breath is much more relevant than how old we are when we marry.”

 

There are also many people who don’t see the relevancy of the proposal. “This is not important at all!”, one netizen says: “What is much more important is to pay attention to the problems of the people – to focus on the safety of what we eat, what we drink, and of the air that we breathe. That’s much more relevant than how old we are when we marry.”

“It makes no sense. What 18-year-old has the financial capacity to get married anyway?”, another commenter says.

According to the South China Morning Post, Huang Xihua also proposed to scrap the two child policy and allow couples to have as many children as they want to increase the population. This proposal, remarkably, received much less attention on Chinese social media.

This photo of a mother cat and her kittens was used by Sina News when writing about Huang’s proposal to scrap the ‘two child policy.’

Huang Xihua is also an active user of Weibo (@黄细花), where she is currently facing quite some backlash on her home page, with people criticizing her proposals and some even wondering why Huang is in the National People’s Congress at all.

“How can a person with such an IQ represent us?”, one person says. “She just wants to be famous,” some say.

What about the minimum age for marriage in other countries? In neighboring countries South Korea and Japan, the legal age to get married is 18 for boys and 16 for girls. In the UK, the legal marriageable age is 16, while in some states in America, it is even legal for 14-year-olds to get married. As this chart shows, China globally has the highest minimum age for marriage for men (22).

In China’s Marriage Law of 1950, the age requirement for marriage was 20 for men and 18 for women. This was revised in the Marriage Law of 1980 to 22 for men and 20 for women to promote population control.

Amid a storm of criticism, there are also some who support the proposition: “I’m in favor of this proposal. If the legal minimum marriage age is 18, it doesn’t mean you have to get married at 18. In the end it’s just a personal choice.”

– By Manya Koetse

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

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China Digital

Too Sexy for Weibo? Online Discussions on the Concept of ‘Cābiān’

Delving into the ongoing discussion on ‘cābiān’ and its influence on women’s expression in China’s digital realm.

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Chinese social media is seeing more discussions recenty on the blurred boundaries of Cābiān. This seemingly never-ending discussion raises questions – not just about sexually suggestive content, but also about the evolving perceptions of women’s bodies and freedom in the digital age.

In the fast-moving world of China’s internet, a new term has emerged: Cābiān (擦边). Originally a sports term describing a ball grazing the edge of a table (擦边球), it now primarily refers to the delicate balance in content that may be seen as sexually suggestive, teetering on the line between ‘sexy’ and ‘sexually explicit’ in the context of China’s internet culture.

The term mainly refers to women’s behavior, style, language, and actions that are considered inappropriate or that are pushing the boundaries of acceptability. Cābiān can be understood as borderline sexual content that basically navigates the boundaries of platform rules without actually breaking them. Nevertheless, is generally seen as ‘not in line’ with what is expected of Chinese women in today’s society.

This term has sparked controversy recently, prompting fervent debates surrounding its implications for women’s self-expression.

 
Too Sexy for Weibo? Jingchuan Liyu’s Divisive Pictures
 

Social media plays a central role in the “cābiān” debate. A recent example involves a Weibo post by Jingchuan Liyu (井川里予, @悲伤荷包蛋), a prominent Chinese influencer active on Weibo and Xiaohongshu.

Jingchuan Liyu is known for embodying both innocence and sensuality in her online persona. Mainly by male netizens, she has been labeled as a symbol of “chúnyù” (纯欲). This term signifies a blend of childlike innocence (纯洁, chúnjié) and allure (欲望, yùwàng).

Jingchuan Liyu became a focal point in the cābiān debate when she posted a series of photos during the summer of this year. While these photos didn’t violate any official guidelines, they departed from her typical “innocent yet sexy” style. In these pictures, she was seen wearing thongs and other undergarments, which apparently made some social media users uneasy.

The controversy surrounding the photos intensified when Jingchuan Liyu responded to these criticisms on her Weibo page. While her supporters defended her freedom to dress as she pleases, others viewed her photos as being more about provocative sexual suggestion than about freedom of fashion.

 
Dog-Headed Lolita: Judged, Harassed, and Labeled Cābiān
 

Beyond online debates, the condemnation of “cābiān” is also having real-world consequences. One recent example is the case of the Chinese influencer known as Dog-Head Lolita (狗头萝莉 @我是狗头萝莉).

Despite having a problematic childhood, ‘Dog-Head Lolita’ managed to turn her life around and became a successful streamer. But her reputation suffered a severe blow when explicit videos of her, recorded by her ex-boyfriend, were made public.

This incident and its aftermath damaged her career and, partly due to getting cheated by her manager, was left with a staggering debt of 6 million RMB ($836K). Trying to start an alternative career, Dog-Head Lolita took up selling Chinese pancakes (jiānbǐng 煎饼) at a street stall as a means to make a living and work towards repaying her debts.

In addition to her physical labor, she also posted short videos of herself selling pancakes online and continued to livestream and engage with her followers to generate more income.

While her efforts garnered sympathy and admiration from some netizens, she also faced accusations of using her pancake-selling business as a form of cābiān.

Her choice of attire, which emphasized her figure, became a central topic of discussion. Some netizens raised questions about whether her videos, showcasing her interactions with fans while selling pancakes, carried a sexual undertone. Moreover, there were arguments suggesting that her true business wasn’t selling pancakes but rather producing sexually suggestive content.

Some critics of Dog-Head Lolita went further and turned online criticism into harassment. Some filed reports regarding the hygiene conditions of her business, while others intentionally vandalized her pancake cart and left insulting messages on it.

Facing this harassment linked to accusations of being cābiān, Dog-Head Lolita voiced her frustration on her Weibo page.

She emphasized that her physique was something beyond her control and that selling pancakes shouldn’t be judged in the same way as her previous online presence. She complained that her livelihood was being scrutinized, even in the most ordinary and innocuous settings.

 
Challenging the Concept of Cābiān
 

Defining the precise boundaries of what is and is not cābiān is not easy, as it has become a catch-all term for anything remotely sexually suggestive, erotic, or resembling “soft pornography.”

While the distinction between suggestive and non-suggestive content remains hazy, new voices have emerged to challenge the very idea of “cābiān.”

Some believe that cābiān is a societal construct imposed on women, rather than an intrinsic concept. They argue that before the term “cābiān” gained popularity, suggestive pelvic dances were widespread in China due to the prevalence of K-pop boy groups, and male celebrities could appear shirtless and flirtatious on TV without anyone accusing them of “cābiān.”

But when it comes to women, the standards of cābiān can be unclear and are often unforgiving. This term is used not only to regulate their clothing choices but also their behavior or even facial expressions—essentially, anything a woman might do.

Once a female online influencer is seen as attractive and desireable, she seemingly becomes more prone to be labeled a “cābiān nǚ” (擦边女) – a woman who is seen as flaunting her sensuality within the context of social media and online platforms.

If this trend of labeling people as sexually suggestive continues, “cābiān” might turn into an unclear social rule, resulting in ongoing moral judgments of women, especially female online influencers.

On the other hand, some netizens see the increasing acceptance of women displaying their bodies in a sensual manner as a form of female empowerment.

One notable Weibo by ‘Wang’ede’ (@王饿德) post that gained a lot of attention suggested that there is a distinction between how others interpret women’s bodies and how women themselves perceive it. The post asserts that revealing skin and wearing “sexy” clothing can be a proactive expression of women’s own desires and confidence rather than solely meaning to please a male audience.

This active pursuit is seen as a form of ‘decolonization’ of the traditional patriarchal gaze— it’s described as “a reevaluation of women’s bodies by women themselves that allows us to reclaim ownership of our bodies,” as stated by the author of the post.

 
Neverending Discussions
 

As the debates continue, Weibo users are noticing a deadlock in these online discussions. Conversations about the who, what, and why of cābiān are recurring and appear to be never-ending.

In 2019, a significant debate arose concerning the attire worn by actress Rayzha Alimjan. In 2022, controversies revolved around busty women. There was also a cyberbullying incident involving a mother who had recently lost her son in a car accident and faced criticism for wearing elegant clothing and makeup (read). Most recently, there has been a series of new discussions, ranging from criticizing the latest TV drama starring singer/actress Lai Meiyun and onwards.

Contemplating this phenomenon, some internet users are thinking about the evolution of Jingchuan Liyu’s style. A decade or two ago, her aesthetic might have been categorized as ’emo,’ ‘alternative,’ or just seen as a form of decadent beauty. However, nowadays, it is quickly subjected to examination to determine whether or not it falls into the category of cābiān.

In the eyes of many Chinese netizens, this trend is seen as a discouraging step backward. Influential bloggers repost their previous cābiān-related Weibo posts from years or even just months ago, highlighting the seemingly futile nature of these discussions.

Who will be the next woman to be branded as cābiān? Will she face online insults and offline harassment? On Weibo, some express their exhaustion at being stuck in this repetitive loop, engaging in similar debates time and time again.

Perhaps it is time to reevaluate the term “cābiān” and engage in more meaningful discussions about women’s bodies and their freedom in China. As one netizen put it on Weibo: “Maybe we should redirect this energy toward discussions that genuinely promote progress instead of endlessly revisiting these cyclic debates.”

By Ruixin Zhang

edited for clarity by Zilan Qian & Manya Koetse

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©2023 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Celebs

Three Reasons Why Lipstick King’s ‘Eyebrow Pencil Gate’ Has Blown Up

From beauty guru to betrayal: why one livestream moment is shaking China’s internet.

Manya Koetse

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PREMIUM CONTENT

Li Jiaqi, also known as Austin Li the ‘Lipstick King,’ has become the focus of intense media attention in China over the past days.

The controversy began when the popular beauty influencer responded with apparent annoyance to a viewer’s comment about the high price of an eyebrow pencil. As a result, his fans began unfollowing him, netizens started scolding him, Chinese state criticized him, and the memes started flooding in.

Li Jiaqi’s tearful apology did not fix anything.

We reported about the incident here shortly after it went trending, and you can see the translated video of the moment here:

The incident may seem minor at first glance. Li was merely promoting Florasis brand (花西子) eyebrow pencils, and some viewers expressed their opinion that the pencils, priced at 79 yuan ($11), had become more expensive.

In response, Li displayed irritation, questioning, “Expensive how?” He went on to suggest that viewers should also reflect on their own efforts and whether they were working hard enough to get a salary increase.

But there is more to this incident than just an $11 pencil and an unsympathetic response.

 

#1 The King Who Forgot the People Who Crowned Him

 

The initial reaction of netizens to Li Jiaqi’s remarks during the September 10th livestream was characterized by a strong sense of anger and disappointment.

Although celebrities often face scrutiny when displaying signs of arrogance after their rise to fame, the position of Li Jiaqi in the wanghong (internet celebrity) scene has been especially unique. He initially worked as a beauty consultant for L’Oreal within a shopping mall before embarking on his livestreaming career through Alibaba’s Taobao platform.

In a time when consumers have access to thousands of makeup products across various price ranges, Li Jiaqi established himself as a trusted cosmetics expert. People relied on his expertise to recommend the right products at the right prices, and his practice of personally applying and showcasing various lipstick colors made him all the more popular. He soon garnered millions of online fans who started calling him the Lipstick King.

By 2018, he had already amassed a significant fortune of 10 million yuan ($1.53 million). Fast forward three years, and his wealth had ballooned to an astonishing 18.5 billion yuan ($2.5 billion).

Despite his growing wealth, Li continued to enjoy the support of his fans, who appreciated his honest assessments of products during live testing sessions. He was known for candidly informing viewers when a product wasn’t worth buying, and the story of his humble beginnings as a shop assistant played a major role in why people trusted him and wanted him to succeed.

However, his recent change in tone, where he no longer seemed considerate of viewers who might find an $11 brow pencil to be expensive, suggests that he may have lost touch with his own customer base. Some individuals perceive this shift as a form of actual “betrayal” (背叛), as if a close friend has turned their back on them.

The viral cartoon shows Li Jiaqi going from a friendly beggar to angry rat.

One cartoon shared on social media shows Li Jiaqi, with mouse ears, as he initially begs his online viewers for money. However, as he becomes more prosperous, the cartoon portrays him gradually growing arrogant and eventually scolding those who helped him rise to fame.

Many people accuse Li of being insincere, suggesting that he revealed his true colors during that short livestream moment. This is also one of the reasons why most commenters say they do not believe his tears during his apology video.

“He betrayed China’s working class,” one popular vlog suggested.

 

#2 Internet Celebrity Crossing the Lines

 

Another reason why the incident involving Li Jiaqi is causing such a storm is related to the media context in which Chinese (internet) celebrities operate and what is expected of them.

Whether you are an actor, singer, comedian, or a famous livestreamer/e-commerce influencer, Chinese celebrities and performers are seen as fulfilling an exemplary role in society, serving the people and the nation (Jeffrey & Xu 2023). This is why, as explained in the 2019 research report by Jonathan Sullivan and Séagh Kehoe, moral components play such a significant role in Chinese celebrity culture.

In today’s age of social media, the role of celebrities in society has evolved to become even more significant as they have a vast reach and profound influence that extends to countless people and industries.

Their powerful influence makes celebrities important tools for authorities to convey messages that align with their goals – and definitely not contradict them. Through the media and cultural industries, the state can exert a certain level of control within the symbolic economy in which celebrities operate, as discussed by Sullivan and Kehoe in their 2019 work (p. 242).

This control over celebrities’ actions became particularly evident in the case of Li Jiaqi in 2022, following the ‘cake tank incident’ (坦克蛋糕事件). This incident unfolded during one of his livestreams when Li Jiaqi and his co-host introduced a chocolate cake in the shape of a tank, with an assistant in the back mentioning something about the sound of shooting coming from a tank (“坦克突突”). This livestream took place on June 3rd, on the night before the 33rd anniversary of the crackdown on the Tiananmen protests.

While Li Jiaqi did not directly touch upon a politically sensitive issue with his controversial livestream, his actions were perceived as a disregard for customer loyalty and displayed an arrogance inconsistent with socialist core values. This behavior garnered criticism in a recent post by the state media outlet CCTV.

Post by CCTV condemning Li’s behavior.

Other state media outlets and official channels have joined in responding to the issue, amplifying the narrative of a conflict between the ‘common people’ and the ‘arrogant influencer.’

 

#3 Striking a Wrong Chord in Challenging Times

 

Lastly, Li Jiaqi’s controversial livestream moment also became especially big due to the specific words he said about people needing to reflect on their own work efforts if they cannot afford a $11 eyebrow pencil.

Various online discussions and some media, including CNN, are tying the backlash to young unemployment, tepid consumer spending, and the ongoing economic challenges faced by workers in China.

Since recent years, the term nèijuǎn (‘involution’, 内卷) has gained prominence when discussing the frustrations experienced by many young people in China. It serves as a concept to explain the social dynamics of China’s growing middle class who often find themselves stuck in a “rat race”; a highly competitive education and work environment, where everyone is continually intensifying their efforts to outperform one another, leading to this catch 22 situation where everyone appears to be caught in an unending cycle of exertion without substantial progress (read more here).

Weibo commenters note that, given China’s current employment situation and wage levels, hard work is not necessarily awarded with higher income. This context makes Li Jiaqi’s comments seem even more unnecessary and disconnected from the realities faced by his customers. One Shanghai surgeon responded to Li’s comments, saying that the fact that his salary has not increased over the last few year certainly is not because he is not working hard enough (#上海胸外科医生回应李佳琦言论#).

Some observers also recognize that Li, as an e-commerce professional, is, in a way, trapped in the same cycle of “inversion” where brands are continuously driving prices down to such low levels that consumers perceive it as the new normal. However, this pricing strategy may not be sustainable in the long run. (Ironically, some brands currently profiting from the controversy by promoting their own 79 yuan deals, suggesting their deal is much better than Li’s. Among them is the domestic brand Bee & Flower 蜂花, which is offering special skin care products sets for 79 yuan in light of the controversy.)

Many discussions therefore also revolve around the question of whether 79 yuan or $11 can be considered expensive for an eyebrow pencil, and opinions are divided. Some argue that people pay much more for skincare products, while others point out that if you were to weigh the actual quantity of pencil color, its price would surpass that of gold.

The incident has sparked discussions about the significance of 79 yuan in today’s times, under the hashtag “What is 79 yuan to normal people” (#79元对于普通人来说意味着什么#).

People have shared their perspectives, highlighting what this amount means in their daily lives. For some, it represents an entire day’s worth of home-cooked meals for a family. It exceeds the daily wages of certain workers, like street cleaners. Others equate it to the cost of 15 office lunches.

One netizen posts 79 yuan ($10.9) worth of groceries.

Amid all these discussions, it also becomes clear that many people are trying to live a frugal live in a time when their wages are not increasing, and that Li’s comments are just one reason to vent their frustrations about the situation they are in, In those regards, Li’s remarks really come at a wrong time, especially coming from a billionaire.

Will Li be able to continue his career after this?

Some are suggesting that it is time for Li to take some rest, speculating that Li’s behavior might stem from burn-out and mental issues. Others think that Li’s hardcore fans will remain loyal to their e-commerce idol.

For now, Li Jiaqi must tread carefully. He has already lost 1.3 million followers on his Weibo account. What’s even more challenging than regaining those one million followers is rebuilding the trust of his viewers.

Update: On September 19, the Florasis/Huaxizi brand finally apologized for its late response to the controversy, and the brand stated that the controversy provided an opportunity for them to listen to “the voice of their consumers.” Their decision to release a statement seemed fruitful: they gained 20,000 new followers in a night.

By Manya Koetse

with contributions by Miranda Barnes

Jeffreys, Elaine, and Jian Xu. 2023. “Governing China’s Celebrities.” Australian Institute of International Affairs, 18 May https://www.internationalaffairs.org.au/australianoutlook/governing-chinas-celebrities/ [12 Sep 2023].

Sullivan, Jonathan, and Séagh Kehoe. 2019. “Truth, Good and Beauty: The Politics of Celebrity in China.” The China Quarterly 237 (March): 241–256.

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©2023 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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