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.