‘For Chinese men, luxury goods are the new penis enlarger.’

By Hung Huang
Illustration by François Berthoud

A letter from… Beijing: Size matters. - © System Magazine

Mao once said: ‘Women can hold up half the sky.’ He was full of shit. The reality is that China today, like the past 4,000 years, remains a Confucius-style society dominated by men who are insecure about their penis size.

Chinese believe that penis size is in proportion to men’s height, and since Chinese men are not tall – except basket- ball player Yao Ming – most men suffer from some insecurity. There was a joke in the early 1990s that Li Peng, then Prime Minister of China, reported to Deng Xiaoping that he was feeling insecure and small. Deng advised him to go to a certain Swiss clinic and get a penis extension. Li happily heeded Deng’s advise. Upon returning, however, he reported to Deng that his insecurity had not subsided; in fact, it had increased. Deng was surprised and said: ‘Show me.’ After Li dropped his pants, Deng gasped and said: ‘Oh no! They gave you mine!’

This small penis complex has also had serious consequences, mostly against women. Men suffering from this complex have huge egos which are easily wounded. Mao was a prime example. My mother Zhang Hanzhi was Mao’s English teacher and later his interpreter. When my mother taught Mao English, he insisted that she only help him to read his own speeches in English. He refused to learn about foreign culture, much less literature and poetry. The lessons were interrupted by the horrific Cultural Revolution and lasted for only 11 months. Fifteen years later when my mother told Mao that she was about to marry one of his cabinet members, Mao turned and declared to a roomful of Chinese diplomats that my mother ‘was no longer loyal’ to him. Within two years, she and her husband were both under house arrest.

Despite the fact China has offered equal pay to women since 1949 and encouraged women to be part of the work force, it has done nothing to change the age-old Confucian prejudice against women with sayings such as, ‘Women without talent are virtuous’, and ‘Pretty Women are a disaster’. Most women who are successful in China know how to navigate a male chauvinistic environment. A women entrepreneur told me that she would always let her husband be the public face of their company. ‘It’s more acceptable,’ she said. ‘Chinese society will applaud successful men but remains very suspicious of successful women.’ All because of Chinese men’s insecurity about their penis size.

Since economic reform started in 1980, Chinese men have finally discovered a way to compensate for their smallness – money. Like they say on Wall Street, if you are rich in China, you are a ‘big swinging dick’. Men feel empowered by their wealth, they are able to buy everything, including women. Now being a rich men’s mistress is listed as the third most sought-after career choice. And when money cannot buy what they want, they resort to violence.

In 2009, two local officials in the Hubei province demanded sexual services from a waitress in a massage parlour. When the waitress refused, the two men tried to force themselves on her. She defended herself with a fruit knife and stabbed one of the men to death. She was charged with murder. Only after massive protests on the internet did the charges drop to manslaughter.

Chinese women have increasingly been victimised by the small penis complex of Chinese men. Objectification, abuse and violence against women are on the rise. Even worse is that the legal system is trying to gloss over these atrocities or, in some cases, attempting to justify them. Recently, a paedophile case was rephrased as ‘sexual encounter with minors’; a gang rape was termed ‘consecutive sex’. In the latter case, a male law professor even wrote an essay arguing that gang raping prostitutes should receive reduced sentences, since it is less heinous than gang raping non-prostitutes.

But what does all this have to do with fashion? For one thing, menswear has exploded in China. For some brands, such as Louis Vuitton, Hugo Boss and Armani, their menswear is probably selling better than their womenswear. To be well-groomed means that you have money, and having money means you are a ‘big swinging dick’. Hence I predict that menswear will see better growth in China than womenswear.

I once met a fixer in the Chinese legal system. He is a diehard fan of Dolce and Gabbana.

‘Why?’ I asked him.

‘It makes me feel big,’ he answered simply.

So, size does matter after all.

Taken from System No. 2.