Note: this article is a bit long... that's not something I expected when I write down the first few words. The first and foremost purpose if this blog post is for guys and gals from other countries to get to know something that is going on in my country. It is not a very religious one (well, maybe except those 10 years of political upheaval and total disregard of reason and the real world), but it is certainly rife with and sometimes narcissistic about its traditions.
Also, please forgive the misuse of any big words in the article. But if you find one, please do point it out. Only then could I learn something everyday ^_^
Many people, including some of my close friends, believe that there has already been a trend in the recent Chinese domestic entertainment industry, where the demarcation line of gender identity has been gradually muddled over a few years, thanks to the popular female androgynous figures such as Li Yuchun, and the "flower-like" boys in those talent contests. They talked about them, usually with disgust. I myself have not watched these kind of shows except for a few selected episodes, but I have to admit that these usually pathetic imitations of successful Western shows seldom has anything substantial to offer. I should not be distracted from the quality of these shows, though, so let us get back to topic.
Just a few weeks ago, an conservatory student participant of the "Happy Boys" talent contest, who goes by the name of Liu Zhu, has muddled the water further still. With an unmistakably genuine female appearance from top to bottom, from apparel to voice, and probably more importantly, from outside to inside, he certainly is destined to make quite a stir among the judges and the audience of the contest.
The reaction of netizens are quite varied as usual. Some of them seem to converge on one opinion: we have seen so many kinds of "abnormalities" before that it should not surprise us, but this has gone way too far and should be stopped. To these kinds of people (1st kind), the possible reaction of the broadcasting authority to this phenomenon, which they often complained about on other matters, is soon enough: there is a rumor that they are going to "filter" this guy (or gal) out of the regional finals for the reason that he is too "non-mainstream". Given their track record on their over-and-mis-management on our television screen and their claims of the "mainstream", it is not a very surprising step if they really take it.
To another kind of people (2nd kind), though, their viewpoint is a bit different. The real question they ask is: is he talented, or not? The basis of their reasoning is that, since this is a talent show, then it is the "talent" that matters most (regardless of the usual opinion that these shows are only for eye-catching purposes and rarely about real talent). For the record, he seems to be pretty good at the thing he is supposed to do, given his academic background and apparent talent in composing and lyric writing. Thankfully, this viewpoint is also the official one of the organizer of the contest. It is not certain, though, whether the over-reaching hands of the authority will prevail or not, at least at the moment of writing this article.
These are the facts. I am going to admit that the debate over this matter is not very serious, and trivial at best, unlike many debates, often political ones, that is happening over this land of great civilization. Then why am I going to write such a long and rambling piece over it? Because what I see in this debate over whether he is "normal" or not, is something far more universal, and much more heated when it happens in different and more serious forms. That is, how we define our moral institutions.
When we talk about morals, there are two kinds of popular trends: one argues that our morals descended from religious or religious-like authorities, such as the Bible or the Analects. We don't have a god or gods, or even supernatural elements, in Eastern philosophical traditions such as Buddhism and Confucianism, but they are still somewhat absolute authorities on moral matters. In the infancy of human civilization, absolutist morality proves to be a good exercise, because it is easy for the common folk to follow without much thought, and easy for the princes and prelates to manage.
Yet absolute morality met its problems soon after the first steps of globalism. Whether we comes from East or West, we come to meet people that has vastly different moral traditions than us. We compare our own moral standards to the others. We (at least the more thoughtful ones among us) are puzzled, and subsequently intrigued, over the fact that these supposedly barbarous homo sapiens has developed civilizations that is at least comparable to ours, without the guidance of a holy book that mutters the same words as ours.
At this time, there are those who continue to embrace their own absolutist morality, either willingly or subconsciously. In the case of the aforementioned event, we see the absolutists at work: because it is considered that the females are an inferior entity than males, it is unthinkable that a man would forfeit his "privilege", and destroy himself, and become a woman-like creature. Most of us certainly don't talk like that kind of misogynistic bastard anymore, but subconsciously many of us still think like that. Just look at the positively-sarcastic reaction when we talked about Brother Chun and Brother Zeng (1) and how manly they are, and you will see my point.
Therefore, there appears another kind of trend, which is applied by many open-minded liberal people and by most governments of the world. That is, to respect the moral differences of others, and treat them as equally effective under their specific conditions. We see this kind of reasoning in another kind of reaction to the aforementioned event. They would say that Liu Zhu's actions may be suitable in the Western world, but not in our culturally-rich Eastern traditions. We would often see our foreign affair department decrying about countries interfering with the internal affairs of our (or another) country. Apparently, this kind of moral relativism has quite some merits for international interactions.
However, I am going to argue that, this is not a good enough reasoning for our moral behavior. In fact, it would be an atrocious and even fatal practice. I am sure many scholars has written about this subject, so I am not going to repeat much of their writings (it would require a separate article), except that this kind of reasoning leaves us powerless when dealing with and criticizing many apparently immoral behaviors in other civilizations that has traditional backgrounds.
You may ask, then: what are we really going to do? Author and neurology scientist Sam Harris has provided to us another answer: that we should use science to determine or moral values. I am sure this sounds scary to many or even most people, since science is not always portrayed as good in our moral intuitions and in media. We always have mad-scientists who commit atrocious acts against humanity in films and video games, and scientific endeavors are sometimes subjected to moral scrutiny (just take the recent example of evaluating moral risks on synthesized life). I have to say, though, that Sam Harris is misunderstood by many people, and his words are often taken out of context (I have not even started on the argument of the distinction of science and technology yet).
Here I propose a supposedly better alternative for his argument:
Our moral standard comes from the known facts of our world, and is subject to change when new facts arrive, and when our previous observations are shown to be wrong or misguided.
Does this look better? Hehe... it is still the scientific method, though, so it is merely an explanation of the "we should use science" part.
What fascinates me most in the absolutist argument is that, contrary to our usual conceptions, their reasoning is usually very good. We don't see many problems in the reasoning itself. The real problem lies in the basis of the argument which, in the case of Liu Zhu, is based on an age-old misrepresentation of the facts of the world. That is probably the only difference between the absolutist argument and the scientific argument, in that we constantly check and update our understanding of the world, and apply it to reasoning when we come to actual questions. When we update our understanding on the equality and difference of the two human genders, the distinction between biological gender and gender identity, and the biological foundation of gender dysphoria, we would surely see matters under a new light. If we know that his thoughts and actions are natural and candid, and that's the way he always is, then we should praise his honesty and accept him as a functioning member of the society.
One upside of this method is that we don't need to completely throw away the relativist argument. We should only look out for the "absolute relativists" who thinks that there is absolutely no universal moral truth, which in itself IS a claim as an absolute universal moral truth, thus contradicting itself. We can still regard many of the moral practices of other traditions as good practices, and many other practices as bad practices. And this is what Sam Harris describes as moral "peaks" and "valleys". In this way, we can claim to reach the relative moral high ground without dismissing all others as inferior.
Admittedly, we could be wrong about an assertion of facts, so we could also be wrong about an assertion of morality. Maybe he is pretending just because others told him to? Maybe there are more psychological reasons behind his behaviors? Even if it is so, there are many overriding and more universal facts at work here. We should still tolerate him and his behavior if it is not harmful to anyone else, because we should treat everyone as equal.
As for whether he would be disqualified in the contest? My previous opinion still holds: we should consider the question without these moral concerns, and focus on the talent itself. There are many aspects of life that is amoral, and we should not play moral police over every matter. That's another topic, though.
P.S. I am looking forward to Sam Harris's new book, "The Moral Landscape". He somewhat convinced me in many of his articles, but I still have many questions regarding his claims, for example, the definition of "well-beings". His new book would be able to answer these questions, whether the answer itself is convincing or not. So I am hoping for a long and thoughtful read ^_^
P.S.2 Personally speaking, I am very intrigued in seeing beautiful boys dressed as female, although I have no interest in doing it myself AT THE MOMENT (my weight! That's why I use my current avatar picture... I would not endorse any piece of junk coming out of this favorite guy of mine in South Park! ^_^) I don't know if this counts as some sort of psychological phenomenon, though. Maybe it has some similarities with those cross-dressing guys, I am not too sure...