Dr. Li Si-chen, president of National Taiwan University (NTU), has expressed his disappointment over the intensive media coverage devoted to current and former female NTU students who have chosen to don skimpy clothes to promote products as so-called "show girls" or even work as pin-up girls. Having studied at the most prestigious educational institution on the island, he feels that NTU students and alumni should contribute to society with their brain power, rather than rely on their physical assets. Li thinks it is a pity that such students enjoy the nation’s best educational resources, but then go on to become show girls or TV variety show hostesses after graduation.
“President is old fashioned”
Yang Yi-mei, a 23-year-old former NTU student, is one of these girls. She got her big break after starring as the “Black Widow” in a television commercial. Her performance generated a large following of male gamers attracted by her substantial assets, sized 34G.
According to the Taipei-based China Times, Yang is proficient in both Chinese and English, and has studied in the United States. She has hosted over a hundred events, including trade shows and corporate events. With her 34G-26-35 measurements, she was dubbed one of the “NTU Thirteenth Sisters” while in school. After appearing topless in a commercial for a video game, she earned the nicknamed “Black Widow.” In May, she signed a contract with a management company that hopes to broaden her appeal by having her write a book and study Cantonese in order to enter the lucrative Hong Kong entertainment market.
In response to Li’s criticism, Yang said each student has to freely develop his or her own potential. She stressed, she knows what she is doing and is capable of making good decisions.
A student at NTU’s veterinary graduate school, Lydia, works as a program host for the ETTV channel. She also disagrees with the president’s comments. “Dr. Li is too old fashioned,” she said “Good looks are bestowed by God. Everyone should take full advantage of heaven’s gift. You need to develop professional skills to stand out in the world of entertainment. The president should not give the entertainment industry such a low grade,” she said.
Performer Pink Yang, also an NTU graduate, said one can be outstanding in any trade, and, encourages younger students who are interested in a career in entertainment to join her to learn more, especially if they have the right attitude – that of enriching oneself. With the exception of variety show host, Nancy Kou, singer and music producer, Huang Shu-chun, and actress, Bowie Tseng, there were few NTU graduates working in the industry when Yang started out in the early 2000s. Now there are a growing number of artists graduating from NTU. While the NTU alumni can look out for one another how you develop your potential is down to the individual, according to Yang.
Sex appeal won't necessarily bring self-fulfillment
In view of the current sexualization of women in Taiwan’s media, and in society in general, commentator Chan Wei-hsiung wrote in the United Daily News, that Li understands the nation’s annual investment in each NTU student does not come cheap. Each public university student receives a subsidy of up to US$6,250 per year, and as one of the most prestigious schools in Taiwan, NTU graduates should select higher level professions so they can further contribute to society. This is a logical expectation from the point of view of collective well-being.
Most of those who disagree with Li argue based on an individualized point of view, quoting the Chinese saying, “You are a hero as long as you stand out, regardless of origin of being low or high,” according to Chan. Show girls can make contributions to society and the school should respect the free development of each student. This is a pluralist claim, which opposes any priority over personal choice by an external authority, said Chan. Since the democratization of Taiwan in the 1990s, individual claims have become the mainstream of social thought.
However, Chan questions, can an opposition to collectivization really achieve personal freedom? In earlier times, nudity was a big issue. But nowadays, nudity is more commonplace, so our desires as consumers can only be peaked by the juxtaposition of nudity with a product. As an example, the pairing of a new sports car or computer with a young woman wearing next to nothing can deepen the sense of pleasure for the consumer. Chan believes Li does not understand the economic aspects of the phenomenon. Still, as the same young women scramble to defend their individual freedoms in a commercialized world now, in time they may face the consequences of their choices, said Chan.
Freedom vs. beauty?
The United Daily News points out in an editorial that young women have the right to capitalize on their bodies and their appearance as a means of making a living or even just enjoying themselves. But it is worth noting that the phenomenon reflects a gender bias that can be detrimental to women and which establishes unrealistic role models and definitions of what is beauty.
Also, in a survey by 101 Human Resources Bank cited in the China Times, on average, nine out of ten college students do work on the side while in school. In an average week they may spend 16.4 hours working and 18 hours studying. So working is also a central part of the college experience. Financially, models at trade fairs earn the highest hourly pay of NT$500 (US$15.6), compared with other jobs held by college students, so in that sense who can blame them.
Inevitably these days, any profession that promises both money and fame is bound to attract young people. However, rising stars cannot simply rely on their good looks. If marketability is linked with a model revealing her impressive cleavage or other parts of her body, the whole of society would be in trouble, and not just the values of NTU students.
Writing in the China Times, Wu Dian-rong is in total agreement with a fellow female commentator Tsao You-fang who said that a “beautiful woman’s life is determined by others, and the less pretty woman’s life is self-navigated.” Beauty is disturbing for those of us spectators who are always worried about it being squandered, resulting in a wasted life. Wu lamented that talking about people who are not pretty but who are more in control of their own fate seems “a bit like saying that the poor enjoy more freedom to wander in the park.” Such self-control and freedom probably do not comfort us, according to Tsao. Still no matter the added degree of control, most women would probably be beautiful than free, concludes Wu.
- The Press Division of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) in San Francisco represents the Government Information Office (GIO), Executive Yuan, Republic of China (Taiwan). GIO maintains nine Press Divisions in the United States, including the San Francisco office. The Press Divisions are in charge of promoting Taiwan's public relations and cultural exchanges. This blog is updated by the Press Division, TECO in San Francisco.
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