Changing China

Giant on the move

Beijing Bellies

May 28, 2008

After a disarmingly cool Beijing spring, summer hit the Olympics host city like a hammer this past weekend, marking the psychological final stretch to the Games.Across the city, kites fill the skies, cold drink sales pick up and bicycle ice cream vendors pedal the streets and lanes to provide relief from the pounding heat.

But if there is anything that defines summer in China’s capital when the mercury rises, its the near ubiquitous outpouring of Beijing bellies.

Sure, as is the fashion in other metropolises, women in Beijing wear tops that suggestively expose their midriffs.

A SHIRTLESS CHINESE CYCLIST RIDES ON A BEIJING STREET.But what sets Chinese men apart is that they are no less shy about baring their belly flesh. With shirts hiked to mid-rift range — but rarely taken off completely — they proudly sport pot bellies, thin bellies, sagging bellies, even rippling buff bellies, for all the world to admire.

Foreign visitors arriving for the Olympics in early August, still among the hottest and stickiest times of the summer, will no doubt have a chance to gaze and wonder at this cultural trait.

It’s common to see a cluster of men huddled around a game board at a park or a pair here and there lounging outside a shop while exchanging some local gossip or chatting about a news event. Some men rest their hands on the oval bulges and rub the sides as if admiring a prize watermelon.

Although some men become a tad self-conscious if asked to be photographed or if they are questioned about the habit, others will beam with delight at the attention.

Maybe by the end of the Games, Beijing’s city authorities can hold an exhibition event on the sidelines of the Olympics — an honorary gold medal for best Beijing Belly.

Photo of the full monty by REUTERS/Guang Niu. For a taste of the more popular partial  exposure, check this out.

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