|(Photo Source: news.cn/CFP)
by Xinhua writer Wang Aihua
BEIJING, Sept. 25 (Xinhua) -- Beauty pageant contestants wearing bikinis designed with Peking Opera elements have pricked the nerves of many Internet users, who say the combination is spoiling the "quintessence" of Chinese culture.
Pictures of bikini-clad girls wearing Peking Opera headwear and performing on stage began circulating widely on the Internet this week following an announcement in Beijing of preparations for the finals of the 37th Miss Bikini International contest.
An overwhelming majority of online comments have criticized the idea as a clumsy attempt to incorporate Chinese traditional elements into pop culture without paying due respect to the essence of Peking Opera, a 200-year-old form of theater that combines music, vocal performance, dance and acrobatics.
An Internet user named "Jianruyu" wrote on social networking site weibo.com, "It may be a clever idea of commercial promotion, but to Peking Opera, the 'quintessence' of Chinese culture, it's an insult."
Another commented, "The beauty of Peking Opera should definitely not be presented with naked skin. Peking Opera-themed bikinis are vulgar."
Li Yulong, executive chairman of Miss Bikini International's organizing committee, told Xinhua that the pictures were taken this April at a celebration performed by award-winners at previous years' contests. The organizers' intention was to make the costumes more innovative and at the same time present traditional Chinese culture to foreign audiences, Li added.
His explanation was echoed by a smaller camp of Internet users who argued the act was just like fashion designers incorporating Chinese cultural elements into catwalk shows and that it was an effective way to attract wider attention to the declining art form.
"Bodies are also an form of art. Only people with dirty minds see obscenity," microblogger "Zhou's world sight" wrote.
Arising in Beijing in the late 18th century, Peking Opera fully developed in the 19th century and flourished in the 20th. However, after its heyday during the late 1970s and early 1980s, the old art form gradually declined, losing appeal to younger generations.
Chen Changwen, a researcher for the Chinese Theater Society, said innovation is a must for Peking Opera, but too bold an idea like the bikini one can do little to help the opera modernize or go global.
"At a time of rapid economic development and increasing cultural exchange, countries should pay even more attention to preserving their cultural traditions, particularly for an ancient civilization like China," Chen said.
The bikini drama came around the same time that reports broke of global coffee chain Starbucks opening a new outlet in Lingyin Temple, a famous Buddhist site in Hangzhou, capital of east China's Zhejiang Province.
Both cases drew mostly negative comments online, but some users voiced more balanced opinions that compatibility with foreign or modern cultures is a prerequisite for the sustainability of Chinese traditional culture.