Prudery Pronouncements China Kicks Into Morality Overdrive

The country's leaders ban sexy models at car shows and cleavage on television as they pursue a “spiritual renewal” in business.
The empress' new clothes better be high-necked.

Is cleavage a serious problem in China? Beijing's leadership seems to think so and has instructed government censors to take action.

The Shanghai Auto Show is already following the new direction.  Cars presented at the April exhibition will be presented without scantily clad women who sometimes attract more attention than the vehicles.

The ogranizer said it wants to ensure a "civilized atmosphere” and put the focus back on cars.

“This has really screwed things up for me,” said a 24-year-old, self-employed model in Beijing, commenting on her canceled booking with a carmaker. The car show, she added, is one of her major sources of income for the year.

A modeling agency in Shanghai said it already had 20 cancellations from carmakers. “That is a huge problem for the girls,” said an agent in an interview with the Chinese Daily newspaper.

Karaoke evenings, where women entertain business managers and traveling salespeople, have suddenly fallen into ill repute.

Car shows, in general, have a long tradition of presenting new products with sexy women. And those in China have been no exception - until now.

A campaign for spiritual renewal is underway, launched personally by President Xi Jinping. Young people are being urged to strive for morality and place their trust in Chinese culture, rather than adopting Western standards.

Social scientists are adhering rigorously to the party line and supporting the leadership in its cleanup campaign. “The focus should be on product quality and standards,” said sociologist Yu Hai, of Fudan University in Shanghai. Glamorous models, he said, are only a distraction.

The policy is leading to a new wave of prudery in the country. Popular karaoke evenings, with women entertaining business managers and traveling salespeople, have suddenly fallen into ill repute.

Last month a popular Chinese TV series about the Tang Dynasty, was taken off the air. “The Empress of China” featured characters showing ample cleavage in lavish costumes of 7th century China. But when the show returned on New Year’s Day, only tight close-ups of female characters were shown, and other features were awkwardly cropped out.

Companies were trying to attract the attention of young customers with overly stimulating models - this distracted from the quality and standards of the products. Geely Spokesperson, Chinese carmaker

Publishers are also confronted by eager censors from the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television. The censors argue that China needs more moral supervision, especially in online literature and self-published e-books. Only “edifying and healthy” literature will be allowed, the agency said.

When it comes to car-show morals, the state television broadcaster, CCTV, has already castigated exhibitions in other countries, claiming that short dresses and generous décolletage only serve to confuse visitors.

Chinese carmakers seem to buy the argument.

“Companies were trying to attract the attention of young customers with overly stimulating models,” said a spokesperson from the Chinese carmaker Geely, which also owns Volvo. “This distracted from the quality and standards of the products.”

Finn Mayer-Kuckuk is based in Beijing and covers East Asia for Handelsblatt. To contact the author: [email protected].