The Beijing bikini is as iconic (and infamous) as the city it takes its name from. But now, the capital’s inhabitants may have to look elsewhere for that cooling breeze, as lawmakers move to ban the practice.
In China, few things signal the start of summer quite as clearly as swarms of middle-aged men all rolling up their shirts and letting it all hang out. The Beijing bikini, as the outfit is called, is most commonly seen in parks, doorways, and streetside eateries, or anywhere you’ll find men who want to beat the heat. There’s a Chinese term for these gentlemen — bang ye (膀爷) — from the words for “shirtless” and “grandpa.”
The new law, which will go into effect on June 1, is part of a city-wide effort to “promote civilized behavior” in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. According to Beijing’s Municipal People’s Congress (link in Chinese), people ought to “not be shirtless in public places.” Other new rules include wearing a mask when ill, covering your face when coughing or sneezing, and not eating on the subway.
While the Beijing bikini was not explicitly stated in the regulations, a tweet from state outlet Global Times confirmed that they were the target.
The regulations also pushed the city to “establish a […] system to record information on civilized behavior such as doing things right, volunteering, charity and public welfare,” maybe a nod to China’s burgeoning social credit system.
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The ban comes a year after cities such as Jinan and Tianjin passed similar laws targeting the Beijing bikini. In Hubei province, the city of Handan even released an anti-Beijing bikini campaign video featuring an old man whose granddaughter shames him: “Grandpa, why are you shirtless again? You are too uncivilized!” The video ends with the slogan: “For a civilized city, ban shirtless grandpas.”
For many people, the Beijing bikini is a fond mainstay of Chinese culture that deserves to exist in peace. Here’s hoping grandpas everywhere will still enjoy playing chess in the park and smoking cigarettes in doorways — just away from the watchful eye of authority.
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