The fans of the little fresh meat are much like their global peers in having the world at their fingertips. The Great Fire Wall has done a good job of keeping overtly politically sensitive information out of China but has had the effect of directing young people’s attention to the realm of culture. With an appreciation for everything from Japanese cosplay to American art-house films, many young Chinese people, like their counterparts around the world, see gender norms as intrinsically fluid and the insistence on prizing traditional masculine traits hopelessly out of date.
Chinese feminists have joined in supporting the shifting ideal of masculinity. Many of these feminists are successful women with large disposable incomes; their tastes and purchasing power have contributed to the rise of the young idols. In their eyes, the appeal of those idols is defined primarily in the negative, by their lack of the attitudes and behaviors symptomatic of entrenched male privilege.
Both the cultural hipsters and feminists appear united in their conviction that gender expression is unequivocally a matter of individual choice. And this flies in the face of the refrain from state media that holds that traditional masculinity is the bedrock of national strength and that this masculinity “crisis” bodes ill for the country’s future. An article posted on the WeChat account of a major Communist Party committee last fall argued that at a time when China is bedeviled by nuclear threats at its border and a trade war from across the Pacific, the country does not want to see its men “shrieking while refreshing their makeup.”
In the past few weeks, with state media awash in patriotic rhetoric urging China to “man up” in the face of the escalating trade war, the little fresh meat fever has continued unabated.
The Konka Group, a Chinese maker of home electronics, an industry embroiled in the trade dispute with President Trump, released a commercial last month starring Lu Han, one of the best-known idols. Zhou Bin, the company’s chief executive, said in media interviews that the decision was prompted by Mr. Lu’s enormous popularity among millennials, who have become its core consumer group.
The commercial was widely applauded on social media. Fans quipped that the popularity of little fresh meat, rather than a sign of national weakness, may signal the foundation of its strength. “Youthful, modern and fashionable,” one user summed up the idols’ appeal in a post on Weibo. “That is what we love.”
Helen Gao is a contributing opinion writer based in Beijing.
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