China’s Masculinity Bootcamps- teaching boys not to be ‘sissy’

China is supposedly facing a ‘masculinity crisis’.

“I’ve observed that there are some problems with our boys. Some are more effeminate, petty, weak-minded and emotionally fragile. Their fitness levels are also falling,” said Beijing Boys’ Club founder Tang Haiyan. His club was set up in 2012 to teach boys how to be more ‘manly’.

It holds 18-day courses, held on weekends for boys aged seven to 11 that aim to prevent them from being “oversensitive, vulnerable, whiny, petty or irresponsible”. The club’s founder believes that it is due to the lack of strong male role models in Chinese society that leads to Chinese boys becoming more effeminate.

Many Chinese parents share this sentiment, and hence have willingly forked over 10,000 yuan (US$1400) to send their children to a military-style bootcamp that promises to ‘man them up’.

In an interview with the South China Morning Post, Zhang Hanwei, mother of 12-year-old Tong Tong, credits her son’s improvement to the camp.

Previously, she said, “It might be that we were too attentive to him and deprived him of the opportunity to be independent. He was not confident and wept at setbacks. He was like a sensitive girl.”. However, after the camp, Tong Tong emerged more disciplined and independent. Since then, she has continued to send him to the bootcamp, trusting that it will further make her son more masculine.

At the camp, boys are expected to recite cheers before lectures, reaffirming their manhood and sense of purpose as men, such as protecting the nation and their honour. There are also physical activities such as wrestling, aimed at building character.

“Some parents may find them dangerous. But they’re important for building up the boys’ courage,” founder Mr Tang says.

Despite the positive reception, there have been many who are against the club’s ideals.

The co-founder of the non-governmental organisation Equality (Beijing) questioned the different qualities attributed to men and women in China.

“The qualities that are important today – for instance strength, willingness to learn, open-mindedness, bravery, decisiveness and responsibility – are all qualities that shouldn’t be found only in a man,” she tells Channel NewsAsia. “These are qualities that every responsible, fully-functioning human being should strive to have.”

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