Man-purses as status symbols

This post is dedicated to Ryan, who once accused me of carrying a man-purse – a baseless allegation that I categorically deny.

However, a growing population of male Chinese yuppies is embracing the man-purse as a status symbol.

From the IHT article, “For Beijing men, it’s in the handbag”:

After Zhou, 29, made the leap from graduate student to doctoral candidate and freelance journalist, he cast aside his backpack for a sleek leather bag, a cross between a small attaché case and, well, a purse.

It’s the shou bao, or men’s handbag.

“People take it as a symbol of your identity,” Zhou said, adding that for many men the bag signifies professional success.

Annie Shi, Dunhill’s regional sales manager, noted that the handbags have special appeal for men aged 30 to 50 who want to show that they are moving up in the world… “It’s a status symbol.”

FYI, it’s called a shǒu bāo (手包) (it bugs me that people render Chinese words in English without tone marks… really, what is the point?).

Anyway, despite popular cultural myths/values to the contrary, the West definitely has its own social hierarchies; status matters big-time in the West. However, Chinese culture takes observing status and hierarchy to a whole different level, and the man-purse thing is tied up in all that.

I don’t have much to say about status, hierarchy, and face practices (“saving face,” etc.) right now, but I’m reading a fascinating book on it called The Remaking of the Chinese Character and Identity in the 21st Century: The Chinese Face Practices by Wenshan Jia (abstract here, look inside here). It’s his dissertation examining the role of face practices in Chinese culture, how they inhibit the transition of Chinese societies into the modern world, and how those practices might be changed to accommodate modernization while preserving Chinese cultural identity. The real life case studies are particularly interesting. There’ll be posts on this book in the future.

11 thoughts on “Man-purses as status symbols”

  1. dudes I’m totally out of the loop here. I see lots of cat pictures Joel in some hot tube celibrating the new year or something, and a post about man bags that show cultural status…alright!? Sounds like your language studies are going well. and that’s all I have to say for right now. Happy birthday Jessica! Love you guys.

  2. Hey Sean! We haven’t really started real language study yet. It’s not possible working full time, but yeah we’re having fun. And Happy Birthday to you! We miss you, too.

  3. Warning Confession: I can handle the Indiana Jones man purse — and he was a doctor of archaelogy.. but it had a manly function. You could hide maps, treasures and guns in it, smack around nazis with it… And none of the aryan women were like, “Ew! Nice purse!” They were like, “Oh you dastardly american man, so unshaven and yet so irresistable.”

    I’m so american/canadian I can’t even start to understand a man purse as a status symbol. It’s kind of a granola/gypsy thing to have a useless hemp manpurse in Victoria.

    By the way, thanks for the dedication, man. I owe you.

  4. I suppose note should be made that I don’t base all of my fashion choices on the reactions of classic adventure movie, screenwritten actresses.. But definitely some. And while I do possess a man-purse it has never been used for a metro purpose. It has been used to transport martial arts training supplies, camping equipment, and occasionally the severed limbs of unsuitable suitors seeking my sisters.

  5. And it’s camo pattern, so even if someone saw me while I was wearing it, they wouldn’t actually see the man-purse. It would blend in to my natural surroundings and become invisible.

  6. hmmm… it took you four comments to justify your man-purse habits. although, seeing as how there’s probably a law somewhere saying that you’re supposed to register your ninja skills as dangerous weapons, i suppose that’s just fine.

    Speaking of dastardly unshaven men, we were just talking with one of our friends yesterday about the appeal of different male actors in Taiwan. He was saying how the new James Bond isn’t doing as well in Taiwan as the others did because in this one he’s too rugged, unlike the other ones where he’s all debonair and cleanshaven. Same thing with Aragorn and Legolas… they loved pablum-face Legolas, but Aragorn’s too dirty.

  7. I wouldn’t call it a ‘habit’ but I do have one… the Register for wannabe ninjas is in Japan, mine has been out of date since 04. It’s not really a legal thing like, “He’s too d3@Dly for d@ 5tR33t5 — it’s a “If he flips out and ‘offs’ somebody he can’t blame us” kind of thing.

    Wierd about those Asians and their dislike for traditional hollywood north american masculinity. That one would be hard to live with for me.. the metros around here make the bus uncomfortable for me and we’re not half as squished as we would be in Taiwan..

  8. They don’t go for rugged. Stubble is out. But in Singapore, apparently men getting waxed is in (‘waxed’ in the salon sense, not the ninja sense). See the 8th and last paragraphs. And keep in mind Singapore has a reputation as one of the most sexually conservative modern nations.

  9. Funny man Joel, interesting post. You’ve recently posted comments on my husbands blog (who, by the way, could qualify as rugged), regarding shower/toilet facilities. So, I couldn’t resist checking out your blog only to find that your latest post in on man purses. I have a technical question though, are they Dolce & Gabbana? Louis Vuitton? And is there additional status in the brand of the purse?

  10. Hi Sarah. Here’s a Rugged Anecdote from yesterday: a young woman who normally only sees us on Sundays walks into the school and sees me in my teacher clothes (shirt and tie), “Oh, today you are so handsome! Not like Sunday.” Sundays I don’t shave because it’s our day off, and yes, they really are that straightforward here. It was funny.

    Dolce & Gabbana, Louis Vuitton, Hello Kitty… if we were sending a portion of the human population away in a spaceship in order to save the planet like in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, they’d be among my submissions.

    One Taipei photo op we’ve seen but not yet taken is outside a big Louis Vuitton store, where expensive-looking employees set an offering table and burn spirit money on the appropriate lunar calendar days every month. Kind of a touching ‘east meets west’ moment.

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