The Alienation of “Yuan”(媛)

Recently, a few phrases gained broad popularity especially on Chinese websites such as: “fo yuan”(佛媛), “bing yuan”(病媛), and “youer yuan”(幼儿媛). One feature that these phrases all share is that they all have the word “yuan”(媛). The original meaning of the word “yuan”(媛) is a beautiful woman or a lady from a rich family; however, this positive meaning has been transformed since last year.

In October 2020, an article by ZhongEr Li became extremely popular on the internet, revealing the truth of “Shanghai Ming Yuan.” In this article, Li talked about his spy experience in the “Ming Yuan” WeChat group. At the very beginning, he spent 500 RMBto be accepted into this WeChat group only to experience the elite life of the celebrities, or “ming yuan” in Chinese. However, he was surprised that these celebrities were actually fake “ming yuan,” disguising themselves as celebrities to sell goods such as clothes and makeup. To reduce the cost, they could rent a luxury with 50 people sharing the cost, so that everyone could create the illusion that they have the ability to buy this luxury item but in reality, each of them only paid 200 RMB. In this way, the word “yuan” (媛) changed from a positive meaning of admirable women to gold-worship women who sell goods through deception.

The result after these beautiful-faced and well-dressed women put on the status of celebrities, more people were willing to buy the products, which expanded their  businesses. The article warned people of the great number of “rich” bloggers online, of which almost all the rich women bloggers were suspected to be “ming yuan,” causing a sense of suspicion among all the audience.

A year later, this October, the Ming Yuan concern seemed to arise again. This year’s concern started when a few sick women recorded themselves with exquisite makeup and appeared in good health conditions to sell certain medicines. Many  argued that they were fake patients and they came to hospitals only to sell medicine. This time,  were called “bing yuan”(病媛), or sick celebrities. This similar name reminded the audience of the story of “Shanghai Ming Yuan”, giving them a bad impression from the beginning. Moreover, the items they sold this time were medicines, which brought more grave consequences than previous goods. In the end, all these factors gave these “bing yuan” a much worse reputation than the “Shanghai Ming Yuan”.

However, a reversal soon happened. It turned out that all the “bing yuan”  women suffered from heavy illnesses, some even went through surgeries, but they had no experience as sales women. The truth is obvious: that they are all real patients without any intention to sell goods. They were simply recommending medicines that they did find useful and would like to help more patients. Without a thorough investigation, news outlets have published defamatory news, causing audiences to misplace blame onto these vulnerable patients. What was even more important was that although the public soon realized their mistake and willingly accepted them, many are quickly repeat their past. After the idea of “bing yuan”(病媛), other phrases such as “fo yuan”(佛媛: well-dressed women entering the temples to worship Buddha) and “you’er yuan”(幼儿媛: good-looking mothers receiving their children from kindergarten) soon came out and again, received  great criticism. The same “yuan” phenomenon  kept occuring and people seem to have no memory. 

Back to the “Shanghai Ming Yuan” itself, which was the beginning of all the “yuan” phrases, the behaviors of these bloggers could actually be regarded as an extremely successful marketing case that people tend to believe in these good-looking and wealthy women and are more likely to make purchases. However, we also have to admit that these “Shanghai Ming Yuan” did have ulterior motives. They took advantage of the public’s admiration of rich beautiful women, doing business through fraud. But this is not the case for “bing yuan” or “you’er yuan”; who are perfect victims in this issue yet, still, they were seriously condemned by the media.

What lies behind these victims was the unscrupulous media. Instead of spreading important news out of justice, they use the private lives of common people to produce popularity. Behind popularity, there is no truth and justice, but instead, only the madness of the ignorant masses. Taught by the media, no longer do the masses care about the truth either,  rather what they really care about is the huge contrast between rich, beautiful women and poor female liars that can temporarily excite them. Moreover, when the audience read too much shocking news, it would be more difficult to move them, further compressing the role of news in disseminating serious truth.

Another fact worth mentioning, is the participation of both men and women in the issue of “Shanghai Ming Yuan”, but only women were faulted. How many of you still remember the phrase “Male Shanghai Ming Yuan”(男版名媛: seemingly rich good-looking men selling goods)? Few, I guess. But why? 

Only women seem to be recognized when both men and women make mistakes. This kind of event is not new in history. The king and concubine of the Dynasty Chou teased the loyal soldiers together, but what was recorded in history was that the concubine enticed the king to do so and the king seemed to have no mistake other than loving his concubine too much. Even in infidelity, cheating men are far less criticized than mistresses. It seems that men are born with a lower moral baseline and people are more tolerant of them. However, this is totally different for women as not only do they have to have higher moral standards, but they are also more easily judged by others. Does the frequency of such incidents make it morally correct? Of course not. What we should reflect on is whether we are influenced by this common idea and how we can change this perception of blindly condemning women.

Lastly, we see the metamorphosis of the meaning of the previously admired phrase, “yuan.” Nowadays, whenever the word “yuan” is mentioned, we point to the negative impression grown from the article of “Shanghai Ming Yuan” and the following ones. This is not a simple change in meaning, but rather a total evolution of all the public impressions of noble women. By changing the word, we are gradually influenced into the thought that women tend to take advantage of their beautiful faces to earn money from men, and this change affects our understanding of women, which should not be taken easily. Additionally, even in the phrase “Male Shanghai Ming Yuan”, the word “male” is only used as a special description of “ming yuan”, and “yuan” itself is used to describe women, so the phrase is also suggesting that women are the recidivists of this behavior. Furthermore, as we can see, the phrases used to describe noblewomen are becoming fewer and fewer as their meanings change from good to bad over time. Imagine what will happen if one day we want to describe nobles but find no suitable word. This imagination is surely too extreme, but it reveals the cruel fact of the disappearance of images and identities of noblewomen.

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