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Letting it All Hang Out: Bang Ye or 膀爷 (Exposed Stomachs) Posted by on May 17, 2012 in beauty, Culture

Everyone has their own way of coping with the heat. For most, it involves fleeing to the comfort of air conditioning and electric fans indoors. But what happens when you’re stuck outside in the stifling heat? Most parts of China are in the upper 90s during the July and August months, with debilitating humidity that makes the United States deep south feel tolerable. Down on the street, the pavement feels like hot coals and the heat absorbed by building and concrete makes you feel like a steamed bun (包子). Fortunately, the Chinese have discovered a way to keep cool in this kind of heat in an interesting fashion display I haven’t seen anywhere else.

It’s called bǎngyé (膀爷) “exposing grandfathers” (despite the wide range of ages that do it) and it’s how men stay cool in China. How does it work? Well, when the temperature gets too hot, men simply roll up the bottom of their shirts to expose their mid-drift and stomach. As they perspire, they use their bottom flap of their shirt to fan cooler air over the exposed stomachs. It’s especially effective after eating a meal, as most of the blood in your body rushes to your stomach while digesting. As a result Chinese men–of all ages– swear by this fashion faux pas way of staying cool, as I’ve watched as everyone from Beijing businessmen to Shaolin monks put their tummies on display.

For westerners visiting China, it’s somewhat confusing seeing a slew of businessmen in full suits with plump bellies protruding out. But that’s just how the Chinese roll…up their shirts. Western notions of propriety and manners are thrown out the window here. Comfort trumps etiquette when the heat becomes just too much. While not everyone loves seeing the exposed grandpas, it’s hard to get them to stop showing off their stomachs when partial public exposure is common in the mainland. That’s not to say that the government hasn’t tried to censor these grandpa midriffs.

In fact, over the past couple of years, Beijing, Shanghai and other big Chinese cities have been trying to stop Chinese men from exposing their stomachs, with very little success. Numerous campaigns have been waged to liken bang ye behavior to lower-status, but it’s hard to convey when all walks of life do it. Many have even come to the defense of bang ye men, claiming it as a cultural peculiarity that harms no one and only seems to offend fashionistas and foreigners. My philosophy is: if it works, stick with it. Why try and imposed foreign standards of propriety on a culture without Judeo-Christian notions of shame?

In the US we say “sun’s out, guns out,” which is a slang term for taking off your shirt when the heat is too much. In China, they take a more tempered approach, and keep the shirt on–well at least from the chest down. Any of you that still thinks it’s uncouth, next time you are melting on a Beijing street, pull up your shirt and let your stomach breath. You might just find that it works, regardless of how silly it makes you look.

 

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About the Author: Stephen

Writer and blogger for all things China related. Follow me on twitter: @seeitbelieveit -- My Background: Fluent Mandarin speaker with 3+ years working, living, studying and teaching throughout the mainland. Student of Kung Fu and avid photographer and documentarian.


Comments:

  1. Adelei:

    Why do you have to throw the Judeo-Christian thing in there? There is absolutely nothing wrong with walking around w/ your belly sticking out, from a Judeo-Christian standpoint. Furthermore, the Judeo-Christian tradition is not the only one w/ notions of shame. But again, there is NOTHING morally wrong w/ what they’re doing, so I don’t see how “Judeo-Christian notions of shame” even relate to the story at all. It’s ridiculous to even bring that up.

  2. Peter:

    An interesting peace of cultural news. But yeah, I also find mentioning “western” notions hypocritical! And what does western mean anyway? Aren’t there huge differences among some Americans, the French, Italians, Swedes, Russians or Germans, for example? All these are westerners for a Chinese, as well as Arabic people, who may find this exposition much more revolting. A prudish, dogmatic American may find this new custom surprising, at worst. I, as a European (I wouldn’t like to define myself more precisely), find nothing wrong in this exposition of the belly area. By the way, the stomach is not in this area, this is the place of some of the bowels inside. The stomach is exactly behind where the folds of the shirt warm the man’s right side and middle.

    • Steve:

      @Peter not eastern…
      Put it this way, Peter, I consider any society with a history in the following as “western:
      1)Judeo-Christian
      2) Greek/Roman notions of individuality, freedom and independent thought
      3) Romance derived language

      -S

  3. Bai tu:

    I’ve noticed many Chinese men with their shirts completely off in restaurants also.

  4. Peter:

    Sorry, S, but your answer has nothing to do with what Adelei and I found ridiculous or offensive to ourselves in your post. Avoiding the essence, shifting. That’s also Western, I’ve noticed of late. What you do is boxing – you know the song, “little boxes on the hillside, little boxes, little ticky-tacky …” Other than that, you’re completely right, but how about it like this: foreign notions of propriety are no basis for judging any culture? And don’t forget, Chinese definitions of “Western” don’t care about your definitions. They also put us in a box, it’s just a different kind, and they don’t give a hoot about our perceptions. Perhaps that disturbed you, or some other ‘westerners’. Still, the topic was interesting, it just doesn’t deserve this extra twist you gave it.

  5. Peter:

    Sorry, “made of ticky-tacky…” … heard too long time ago … otherwise, it doesn’t matter.

  6. A:

    Maybe some of the comentators should study the history of “Western Civilization” . In fact there is famous book from the 60’s The Rise and Fall of the Western Civilization. In traditional context of this Western European civilization, the mores, traditions and values were largely a result of the state religions. And western culture meant traditionaly Western European culture,composed in of thre Judeo-Christian religions and therefore incorporating those religion’s concept. Shame was one of them. And as we all know the cultural values of a place are based many times on the religions setting the cultural tone.

  7. Barbera Silguero:

    Excellent site you have here.. It’s difficult to find high quality writing like yours these days. I seriously appreciate people like you! Take care!!


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