The skinny on the 'naked' phenomenon in China

Our correspondent explains why there's less than meets the eye when it comes to being 'naked' in China.

China Daily/Reuters/File
An engaged couple sits on a bicycle as they pose for wedding photographs to the theme of a 'naked wedding,' which means young couples get married with no houses, cars, or little bank savings, on a pedestrian bridge on Valentine's Day in central Beijing.

Everywhere you look on the Internet in China these days, somebody is referring to something as “naked.”

I have written two stories recently about “naked” social phenomena – “naked marriage” and “naked resignation.” The articles’ headlines attracted a lot of readers; I hope they were not too disappointed to find, when they clicked on them, that the stories had nothing to do with a lack of clothes.

“Naked marriage” refers to couples getting hitched even though the groom brings no apartment or car to the relationship, as is traditional. “Naked resignation” refers to people quitting their jobs without the security of another one lined up – once highly unusual but now a growing habit among the urban young.

In new Chinese slang, students can take “naked exams,” which means they have done no studying, or make a “naked return” to China after studying abroad, with no specific career plan. Senior officials can go in for “naked retirement,” which means they really retire, rather than take all sorts of honorary positions or consultancy posts.

The term began appearing on the Internet about five years ago, and it seems to represent a spreading zeitgeist among educated young Chinese, a spirit of the times that encourages the pursuit of freedom and independence.

Naked marriage means shrugging off material burdens; naked resignation implies following your heart; naked retirement means switching to a simpler life without the glory of titles; naked exams suggest self confidence, a “let it be” approach.

This is new in China, where children are taught to be obedient and respectful of tradition and adults are expected to subordinate their personal interests to group values. If “going naked” really takes off, it could mean major changes for Chinese society, and Chinese politics.

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