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Fashion Ban within Media: China’s Newest Isolationist Policy in the 21st Century

Photographs: Mark Schiefelbein/AP/ Perfect Diary's Weibo/ Hua Chenyu

With the expansion of explorative fashion promulgated by pop culture, media representation has diversified various individuals’ self-expression through dress, most notable celebrities, and political figures. Despite the normalization of this culture of expression, many individuals and societies still struggle to comprehend nonconforming fashion looks with gender-fluid or crossdressing aspects. Under the widespread influence of celebrities like Harry Styles and BTS, bold statement styles have become a core of the ever-evolving 21st century as individuals continue to explore new avenues of dressing. While many support and love this new revolution within fashion, others are cracking down upon these ideas of reshaping traditional norms. The harshest crackdown has arisen within China after the government banned effeminate men on TV to enforce revolutionary culture, pushing for stronger Communist Party control of the business, education, culture, and religion (NPR).

Notably, the juxtaposition of singer Hua Chenyu against President Xi Jinping in this photo has gone viral, as it symbolizes the control the government holds against outlets of expression through fashion and media. Hua Chenyu represents one of many celebrities that are under a crackdown by the Chinese government for styling nontraditional pieces while donning different makeup looks. With the increasing influence of fashion as self-expression, such political agendas mitigate the identities of pop stars and celebrities due to the government’s belief that citizens will be overly influenced by these gender-fluid looks. Moreover, the Chinese government has condemned the influence of South Korean and Japanese singers and actors in labeling them as the force that had shaped Chinese pop stars to act and present themselves in this manner—blatantly ignoring the development of individuality and unique personalities within the Chinese population. Chinese celebrities such as former EXO boyband member Huang Zitao and C-Pop idol Cai Xukun have already started conforming to the ban by presenting themselves in a more “masculine” manner, shifting away from their usual fashion and makeup looks in favor of gym pictures and bearded selfies (Tan).

In the midst of this, social commentary within China has been brewing with individuals advocating against this ban. On popular social media platforms like Weibo, individuals have begun attributing this ban to gender inequality and masculinity crises within the patriarchal structure of China. Additionally, others believe that this ban ignorantly diminishes aesthetic diversity—something that is crucial to a progressive and open-minded society. Seemingly, this is the 21st-century isolationist policy China is implementing to parallel its 15th-century trade and exchange one. As fashion holds increasingly greater power in expression and activism, this political ban on fashion in media serves to bar China and its citizens from external development once again. China fails to recognize that fashion and makeup brand opportunities will be stripped from their celebrities if they cannot participate in partnerships and brand deals that the government views as “destructive” against the “revolutionary culture”. Beyond restricting individual development for these Chinese celebrities, China is limiting itself from economic and cultural opportunities in the name of political “rejuvenation”. Only by understanding and promoting the modern influence of fashion will China truly have a chance to immerse itself and its citizens within the 21st century, free from the restraints of political control.

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