Local authorities in China are cracking down on men baring their bellies during the summer.
Culture

Beijing bikini: Chinese government cracks down on men baring midriffs

Jul 05, 2019

Summers in China are sweltering, especially in big cities, where temperatures can reach upwards of 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

To cope, many men of a certain age resort to rolling up their shirts to just above their bellies—or opt for going topless altogether. They do it in public—on the streets, in parks, and even at work if the job involves outdoor labor.

A man walks shirtless in Beijing on a scorching hot day.
A man walks shirtless in Beijing on a scorching hot day. / Photo: Imagine China

The boorish look has become a hallmark of the Chinese summer, so much so that it has an affectionate nickname: the Beijing bikini (though the phenomenon is certainly not restricted to the capital).

But cities in China are increasingly cracking down on this behavior, deeming it uncouth and uncultured.

The latest city to add baring the midriff to its list of public offenses is Jinan, where it joins spitting, littering, and jaywalking as behavior punishable by fine.

The goal, according to a bulletin issued by the Jinan government on Monday, is to “eliminate uncivilized behavior” and “improve quality of life.”

(Read more: Why Chinese shoppers literally fought each other for Uniqlo shirts)

The notice ends by imploring people to “dress civilly.”

Although the report did not offer details about the fines, another city, Tianjin, ordered a man to pay $7 earlier this year for walking around topless in a supermarket.

He was also scolded by police officers, who reminded him to wear a shirt in public, according to a police report.

Baring the belly

For many foreign tourists, the sight of the Beijing bikini can be jarring, but for locals, it’s simply a way to keep cool.

Especially for retirees reluctant to pay for air-conditioning, hanging out in the shade with the midriff exposed is the preferred antidote to punishingly hot summers.

A man plays chess shirtless in a park in Xiamen.
A man plays chess shirtless in a park in Xiamen. / Photo: Imagine China

Feng Gang, a sociology professor at Zhejiang University, believes the practice is common among older generations because they grew up in tight-knit neighborhoods and villages.

“Chinese people’s sense of boundary between home and the outside world is vague compared to that of Westerners,” he told the Global Times, “so people tend to bring their home habits into public areas.”

(Read more: Why Chinese grandmas love dancing in public together)

But as China’s urban population continues to grow, there is a greater sense of public versus private spaces.

Jinan is the fourth city to introduce fines for baring the belly in public, after Shenyang, Handan, and Tianjin.

In Shenyang, which has had the rule since 2015, public toplessness is not only punishable by fine, but authorities can also report the offense to a person’s employer.

And the government of Handan in 2013 released a PSA encouraging folks to keep their clothes on.

In the video, a woman introduces her boyfriend to her shirtless father, who is berated by the boyfriend for his “uncivilized” behavior.

After the experience, the father decides to wear a shirt and cap in public.

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