Super Girl as Heroine

In the annual special issue of Asia's Heroes in TIME Asia magazine, there are six Chinese.

The person who has drawn the most comment is undoubtedly the Super Girl Li Yuchun who was featured on the front cover.

The following article appeared in Southern Metropolis Daily.

[translation]  2005 Super Girl champion Li Yuchun was selected as an Asian heroine and made the front cover of TIME Asia.  This news was reported by various media in China and was hotly debated on the Internet.

Some people celebrated and thought that she deserved it; some people were distraught because it was a shame for China to have such a person selected as a heroine; still others were incensed because they saw the standard American trick -- the United States doesn't like China to become strong and therefore deliberately denigrate China or mislead public opinion.

It is an exceptional event to make the front cover of TIME magazine.  This impression came about in the 1980's when Deng Xiaoping made the front cover of the magazine as well as the Man of the Year.  Based upon their support of Deng Xiaoping, the Chinese media over-promoted the standing and position of TIME, making it seem as if this is the most authoritative judging organization in the world.  Afterwards, even I personally had to spend a lot of effort to put TIME back in my mind as just a source of news information.

Not all news media follow the practice of CCTV's News Joint Broadcast to organize news on the basis of the position and responsibility of the individuals instead of the newsworthiness of people and events.  Once we understand that, we can better appreciate how Li Yuchun could follow Deng Xiaoping onto the front cover of TIME magazine.

Let us see what kind of heroine Li Yuchun is according to the judging process.

Beginning in 1927, TIME magazine selected its Person(s) of the Year on the basis of significance, seriousness and influence.  Therefore, most of the winners were international political figures.  By comparison, the Asia's Heroes series, which first appeared in 2002 in the TIME Asia edition, obviously focused on new and civilian forces in Asia, and skewed towards young people in entertainment and sports.  The front covers in the first three years were respectively Zhang A-mei, Stephen Chow and Tan Yuanyuan (note: a young Chinese ballet dancer).  So it is no surprise that Li Yuchun made it this time.

There are usually more than twenty Asia's heroes (including groups), classified as "role models", "iconoclasts", "activists", "educators", "entertainment stars", "athletes" and so on.  The group winners are often given their own class, such as "SARS fighters" two years ago and "Tsunami rescuers" this year.

Zhang Jingchu was a heroine in the "Entertainers" section.  Li Yuchun was one of the members of the "Iconoclasts" section, with the other being Lin Hwai-min, who leads a modern dance troupe in Taiwan.

The term iconoclast" can be translated as "someone who subverts traditional ideas."  The commentary in TIME Asia opines that the traditional image on the Chinese television stage is a folk artist, but Li Yuchun challenged this tradition.  This 21-year-old female student does not sing well, does not dance well but she has a unique personality: she dresses, looks and sings like a boy.  She deliberately seeks out songs by male singers such as Liu Wenzheng and goes her own way.  In addition, she became the champion through a judging process with democratic characteristics and that too is a challenge to tradition.

Once we understand these classifications and the judging process, we would not be overestimating the meaning of "appearing on the front page of TIME magazine."  We would also not simplistically think that TIME magazine is causing trouble or sabotaging China.

Some netizens are unhappy: Why does TIME magazine only see our entertainers and athletes (note: last year, Liu Xiang was selected)?  From the above classifications, we can see that this selection emphasizes entertainment and sports, but it also includes other sectors of society.  Although the husband-wife writing team of Chen Guidi and Wu Chuntao are among the selectees, why can't there be more?

That is a good question, but it should be asked from a different angle: How come only the entertainers and athletes can emerge from amongst us and why are we lacking in other areas?  In more serious judging events, such as TIME magazine's Person Of The Year and the Nobel prizes, why do so few Chinese win?

This reflects our contemporary social practice.  In entertainment and athletics, we have an open system that has lively ideas and great creativity.  In the areas of education, science, literature and social movements, we are behind and very much behind.

The solution to this problem is not to stop Li Yuchun from rising up or to ban "Super Girl".  The idea is to work harder in the other areas.

It is fair that Li Yuchun should be the subject of most of the discussion, since she is the person on the front page.  As in the above essay, the elite intellectuals prefer the activists Chen Guidi and Wu Chuntao.  However, it should be noted that very little is said about just what Chen and Wu did to deserve the honor.  The essayist above certain deftly navigated past the danger spot.  But how can we speak of "being behind and very much behind" and "needing to work harder" without dealing with the structural problems in society?  "Working harder" is more than just a matter of some people putting in more hours a day; it means having "an open system that has lively ideas and great creativity."

If you don't know who Chen and Wu are, then here are the two most important facts about them: