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Why men's ears are censored on Chinese TV

Inkstone logo Inkstone 21/1/2019
a person standing in front of a store © iQiyi

In the United States, a Gillette ad has prompted a heated debate over what men should be and do.

In China, at least one thing is clear: they probably should not wear earrings.

A number of Chinese entertainment shows have recently censored the earrings worn by male celebrities - by blurring their earlobes.

In the reality series I Fiori Delle Sorelle, rolled out last month by streaming site iQiyi, two male stars were shown working in a flower shop in Florence, with blurry earlobes.

An acting competition, also by iQiyi, blurred out the earrings on a popular male actor, while all of the women's earrings were left intact.

It's unclear whether the censorship was a result of official directives.

Earrings on men are traditionally associated with rebellion and counterculture in China. Most primary and secondary schools ban them, for both sexes.

Although more young men are embracing earrings as a fashion statement, the accessory still raises eyebrows among the more conservative population.

Chinese state media have also in the past attacked the trend of "little fresh meat," warning that delicate-looking, effeminate men on TV will have a negative impact on the country's youths.

"There's a growing concern about men's image in the country," says Yik Chan Chin, an expert on media policy at Xi'an Jiaotong-Liverpool University in eastern China. "The government may think censorship is good way to respond to the public concern over feminine men."

However, screenshots of the awkwardly blurred earlobes are now leading to an online backlash against tightening censorship and state-defined masculinity.

"Who says men cannot have make-up, earrings and perfume?" said a user of the Twitter-like site Weibo. "The most important thing we need to teach the young generation is tolerance."

"Maybe the next rule will be: women cannot wear pants," another commented.

The Communist Party has in recent years stepped up social controls to enforce its own ideology and morals. That's led to media outlets regularly blurring or pixelating things they think could irk the authorities.

Sometimes new restrictions are introduced after filming has wrapped - meaning that pixelation is the only way to get the show approved.

In the entertainment show My Little One, aired in July last year, the state-owned video platform Mango TV blurred the ear studs on one man and superimposed a cartoon cat face to cover up the ponytail on another.

And while airing the Eurovision Song Contest in May, Mango TV blurred out a rainbow flag held by the audience as well as tattoos on one of the contestants.

The European Broadcasting Union terminated its partnership with the platform following an online outcry.

During the ongoing Asian Games, Chinese soccer players have had to wear long sleeves and bandages - so that viewers will not see their heavily tattooed arms.

This story originally appeared on Inkstone, a daily multimedia digest of China-focused news and features. Like what you see? Sign up for our newsletter, download our app, or follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

Copyright (c) 2019. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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