No more subtle and insinuative associations between Chinese culture and Asian femininity, but rather utilizing attractive bodies as a direct platform for language learning... The language website "Sexy Mandarin" is becoming viral in recent months, leading Chinese to debate over its significance: Another indication for the dominance of Chinese culture or an easy way to expose local skin.
'Sexy Mandarin' (性感汉语 xinggan hanyu or 性感普通话 xinggan putonghua) was initiated in December 2011, but as many interesting phenomena, it became a focus of the global media at a random timing last June. The British Telegraph posted an article, following by hundreds of reports by (lazy) news agencies worldwide. It is always easier to follow the lead then to study a new event. Furthermore, it seems that writing about 'Sexy Mandarin' is the perfect topic for the media, particularly us internet websites: an opportunity to discuss a sexy topic and add 'informative' pictures, without being trashy. After all, we are only 'objectively' depicting an interesting cultural phenomenon.
Kaoru Kikuchi, a Japanese graduate of architecture at Nottingham University knew he had a gold mine in his hands. He would insult some feminists, but the potential exposure of his idea of a 'bikini-based' language-learning website is unlimited. Moreover, he could always express that his authentic objective is to supply 'efficient' language tools for students who sadly find Chinese language too hard, or simply cannot handle the dullness of language textbooks (this is what he said to justify his initiative).
Currently, 'Sexy Mandarin' offers less than a dozen of short video lessons, which are a snick preview for more in depth material that it will offer to more loyal (and probably more generous money-wise) pupils later on. A youtube channel broadcasts lesbian-Schick lessons. The first item 'what time is it?', which has been viewed nearly 500,000 times, shows two women playing in bed in their underwear, interrupted by the notion that it is late and one has to leave to meet her husband. Other lessons portray scenes such as a nurse checking a half-nude female patient or bikini girls washing a car. A special page at sexymandarin.com introduces the talented teachers in minimal clothes, and one can click on the favorite choice (like choosing a lady in a brothel?) and enjoy further extensive imagery.
The lessons are produced stylishly, with light erotic music, a likeable animated professor and very clear pronunciation, with close-ups on the lipstick lips of the 'teachers'. This, along with the moody girly intonation, could perhaps allow students the comprehend the Chinese tones quite effectively... Although few lessons are available, it is already apparent that the Chinese protagonists experience a Westernized lifestyle. Instead of mentioning Chinese New Year or dumplings, they mention Valentine's Day and April Fool's day, making the content very digestible to the Western viewer (and intentionally showing the mid-high class lifestyle of urban China).
It is clear that the exposure that Sexy Mandarin has at this moment does not indicate how many of its users actually wish to study Chinese. Only when users would have to commit by paying or experiencing more difficult vocabulary we will be able to judge whether eroticism promotes language learning in this case, or whether 'Chinese' is just another excuse to watch sexy women.
The business platform of Sexy Mandarin remains unclear at the moment. Will they provide many longer sexy videos along the way or will they gradually transfer their students to more serious language-learning zones. The commenter in the end of the videos recommends that serious learners attend the website New Concept Mandarin. Whether it is only a collaboration of the final destination we will find out later on...
Sexy Mandarin; behind and in the scenes:
As an article by Global Times wonders, how will Sexy Mandarin portray lessons that are more complex? Will a meeting at the bank, shopping at the market or a dinner with one's spouse's parents also involve abdominal exposure? Eventually even the horniest viewers will suffer a headache if the dialogues develop to a sophisticated level while they had not yet memorized a single phrase.
Reactions in China are mixed. Feminists express their voice expectedly. Sue Mei Thompson, executive director of HK's Women's Federation doesn't appreciate the portrayal of women as sex objects while Annie Chan of the Association for the Advancement of Feminism in HK claims that 'Sexy Mandarin' exoticises Chinese women. At the same time, some scholars and journalist who do not hold such a strong grudge against sexy imagery still doubt that serious language learning can be accomplished through these lingerie scenarios.
Nevertheless, Sexy Mandarin can be watched on local video websites such as Tudou or Youku. After all, the content itself is certainly not more provocative than what can be seen on the homepage of any large news portal. Netizens tend to find 'Sexy Mandarin' amusing, they ridicule the permissive and unserious style of Western (mostly US American) surfers, and admit that Sexy Mandarin makes Chinese seem 'not so difficult'.
Articles that emphasize the patriotic angle suggest that Sexy Mandarin is another indication for the economic progress of China and its encompassing power, leading foreigners to study the Chinese language in any format possible. While authors of these articles enjoy any publicity or data illustrating the popularity of Mandarin, most reactions in China are mixed, understanding that 'sex' can never be just a measure to obtain an objective but often tends to become the main issue.
Chinese netizens, scholars and officials will surely follow the progress of Sexy Mandarin with close interest, just like us all, pondering whether we are arriving at a new era in the realm of language-learning, or is this just short-lived gimmick.