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Falling in love with Mongolia (commentary on Taiwanese)

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Falling in love with Mongolia (commentary on Taiwanese)

Postby momopi » Thu Sep 25, 2008 8:02 pm

Since were talking about cowboys, I cant close this entry without tackling a somewhat sensitive topic: Asian manhood. There is a widely held stereotype that, samurais and Bruce Lee aside, East Asian men are not particularly masculine. I hate to admit it, but as with many stereotypes, theres some truth to this. Take my native Taiwan: Good food? Yes. Friendly? Yes. Macho? Not at all. Many Taiwanese men consider it perfectly normal to fill their cars with stuffed animals. More broadly, male pop stars across East Asia have a disturbing tendency to look exactly like the teenage girls who are their biggest fans.

Please dont get angry about this. Its true that Western popular culture tends to emasculate Asian men. I am also aware that cultural ideals of manhood vary, and that Taiwanese men are more likely to express their masculinity in other ways, like collecting tea pots or chewing on betel nuts. But rough and tough they aren't. And some of this gives Asian men outside Asia something of a complex.

The antidote to any idea that this might be a racial, as opposed to cultural, trait is a trip to Mongolia. Mongolian men in the countryside spend their time riding horses, killing animals, and breaking firewood. They tend to hold their face in a fixed grimace. At times, it is like a country of Daniel Craig impersonators. Along with parts of Latin America, its probably the most macho place Ive ever been. And so, my Asian brothers, if you ever want to know what the extremes of Eastern manhood look like, forget about Jet Li or even Bruce Lee. Its Mongolia where Asia gets tough.
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Postby momopi » Thu Sep 25, 2008 9:24 pm

(Commentary - Opinion)

As detailed in the book "Theorizing Chinese Masculinity: Society and Gender in China", the concept of traditional Chinese masculinity is rooted in the 2 concepts of wén and wǔ:

文 wén language; culture; writing; formal; literary; gentle
武 wǔ martial

wén represents someone who is literate and cultured, it can be compared to the Confucian ideal of the scholar-gentleman (Junzi/君子) who is educated, ethical/moral, virtuous, and an exemplary person. Someone who is not a Junzi, is a xiaoren (小人), or "small person' who is selfish and only cares for his own desires.

wǔ represents the martial strength, someone who is healthy, physically strong, brave, skilled in the martial arts and arts of war. This concept can be compared to the honorable warrior, such as the legendary figure of Guan Yu (關羽) from the Three Kingdoms era. The opposite of this, is a person who is not loyal, righteous, and generally a coward.

Since the downfall of Qing and rise of Western political theories (Republican, Communism, Democracy), the traditional Chinese society and its cultural teachings has been thrown into an upheaval. For decades it was seen as backward and suppressed, or watered down. In China we saw the Red Guards destroying as much as they could through the Cultural Revolution. In Singapore, Lee shut down all Chinese learnings from the famous Nan Yang university and forced the whole island to westernize according to British values. Taiwan/ROC today only teach a very watered down version of traditional learning in its schools.

The result of this is that the modern Chinese male (including those in HK, Malaysia, TW, and overseas) often lacks suitable role models for manhood. In the old days the ideal is someone who was both educated and martial (wen-wu seon chuan). Today traditional teachings are considered archaic, martial arts classes are seen as disciplinary classes for foreigners to send their kids to, and a career in the military is neither well paid or desirable.

In its place, we have western media glorifying western standards of beauty, which obviously only a minority % of Asians fit in the model, not to mention its unhealthy influences on young girls to dress like sluts. From Japan, we have the j-pop culture which spread across Asia, where the men are metro and only appeals to a segment of the female population. And what about "manly" Chinese males? They're often considered rude and thuggish. Consider how many Taiwanese describe the behaviors of Mainland Chinese men. Taiwan's current culture really doesn't value "macho".

At some point the men in East Asia needs to find their own way to be a man, and not drive cars loaded with stuffed animals, trying to look like metro-sexuals. They need to learn to be aggressive in their pursuits and increase their sexual market value, not mooching off their parents. Young adults in Taiwan, for example, needs to be taught motivation and the value marriage & family, instead of being parasitic singles pushing national birth rate down to 1.14. Who will defend Taiwan when the men are few and act like women, or ran off to Shanghai, Australia, US/Canada? Who will take care of the parents when they can't be there? Who will look after you when you're old?

Moving forward, the local fashion, TV, film, mass media, commercial advertising, etc. industries need to reinvent itself and create something unique and not copycat from NA/Europe or Japan. The people of Taiwan look nothing like Europeans, so why use ads with white people? People try to be something that they're not when they feel inadequate, or have few alternatives. But the fact is that the cloths that fit other people, don't always fit you (picture a bunch of white kids trying to act like they're black, it looks stupid).

India used to be a British colony, yet its film and fashion industry value local culture and clothing as much as as foreign ones. That'd be a good step for TW to start on (in addition to reviving the domestic film industry, which is pitiful compared to Hong Kong).

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