Since Sept. 24, the contestants, who hail from four continents, have undergone preliminary rounds. It is meant to be a pageant unlike any other, event organizers explained, with a focus on traditional values.
NTD stands for New Tang Dynasty, a reference to the golden age of ancient China. The pageant is part of a series of competitions the network hosts in its efforts to support traditional culture, which all have a mission to promote “pure authenticity, pure goodness, and pure beauty.” The winner will be crowned Miss NTD with a five-sapphire “phoenix crown” tiara designed by Shen Yun Collections.
The judges will look at more than the young women’s external beauty—a huge part of the final score is understanding the five virtues prominent in traditional Chinese culture: morality, righteousness, propriety, benevolence, and faithfulness. The first-ever competition was only open to women of at least one-third Chinese descent and is being conducted in a bilingual fashion.
Agnes Sui, from Germany, said the virtues are a core part of the humanities and a universal standard for how a human being should live. They govern how one should carry oneself, as well as how one should treat others—with love and respect—she explained.
“I’ve never joined a pageant before, but this NTD competition’s mission is to show the beauty of women as it relates to pure truth, goodness, and beauty. This is also what I believe in,” Ms. Sui said.
Cynthia Sun, from Houston, Texas, said she had never participated in a pageant before, and learned that most of her fellow participants were in the same boat. She shared that it was a nerve-wracking learning experience, but after a few days, the young women had fostered a sense of camaraderie. Ms. Sun felt proud of how hard everyone had worked to get to where they are today.
“It really gives us a chance to show that we’re not only beautiful on the outside, but that we have a lot of deep thoughts, and we have a lot of ways that we want to inspire other young women to do the same in society,” she said.
Ms. Sun said the judges asked each contestant about their missions and aspirations, as well as what they believed a role model should be.
They were questions that inspired her to “really look within, dig deep, and find those meanings in our own lives as well as in what we see in the world,” she said.
Lisa Mu, from Australia, said it’s been a meaningful experience in which all participants share a mission to share beauty with the world.
Judging Inner Beauty
Judge Gabriel Georgiou, a celebrity stylist, said he comes from a world that judges external beauty first, so he was honored to participate in this event.
“It’s nice to base things on the energy the girls exude, and also their inner self, their inner beauty based on morality and virtues,” he said. “I think that comes across in their grace and their elegance and their charisma, the harmonious walk and expressions.”
Mark Lubric, founder of a modeling agency, said that in his line of work, external beauty also comes first, but if the potential model doesn’t have the character to go with the look, things typically go nowhere.
“With this pageant, obviously, there is an outward element—the girls have to be presentable, they have to be elegant, they have to be classy. But the deeper element behind part of this pageant is the girls’ knowledge and understanding of what virtue means. What is loyalty? What is righteousness? And all these values of what a woman should be,” Mr. Lubric said.
The competition’s mission was a welcome one to him, Mr. Lubric explained, because modern thinking and culture have pulled people away from traditional values.
“The fact that the pageant is using traditional culture as a way back [to] traditional values is very important,” he said.
Judge Alison Chen, an assistant professor of dance at Fei Tian College, said they’re not just looking for textbook knowledge of traditional culture and virtues from the young women participating in the pageant. Just as important is the depth of understanding of these principles and lessons, as well as their application of these virtues in their own lives. Do they live out morality, righteousness, propriety, benevolence, and faithfulness? Their answers are telling, the judges shared.
However, Ms. Chen added that they’re not looking for someone who tries to fit themselves into a certain mold and become something they’re not—it has to be authentic.
“In Chinese culture, there’s a deep connection with what is within, with how you present yourself outside,” she said. “Each contestant [has] their own different personality ... hobbies and interests. We’re really trying to see who can bring out their own character and personality with how they walk, how they talk, and how they present themselves onstage.
“We’re not just looking for someone who is outwardly confident and outwardly beautiful. In Chinese culture, a lot of the ladies have a sort of intrinsic sort of beauty and charm—it’s not going to be projected so intensely,” she said, noting a difference in this pageant. “I think that’s something that builds within someone’s character and is accumulated over time.
“I think that’s what gives this pageant its meaning. It’s about taking the knowledge and wisdom from history and putting it into our lives today,” Ms. Chen said.
Traditional BeautyAncient China is unique in that its legacy includes five millennia of unbroken recorded history, rife with stories that still stand as definitive examples of virtue. Of particular interest to the competition is the “Four Beauties” of ancient China, stories of four women of renowned beauty who changed the nation’s fate for better or worse.
Before communism, China stood for 5,000 years as a place where the people believed their culture was a gift from the divine. The ancient Chinese believed in harmony between Heaven, Earth, and humankind; this central tenet informed civilization for millennia. Poets and historians alike expounded on the necessity of virtue.
The five virtues of morality, righteousness, propriety, benevolence, and faithfulness—symbolized in the Miss NTD crown’s five feather motifs—were especially highlighted for women.
Eastern Han Dynasty writer Ban Zhao was born into a family of historians and was often called on as a guest instructor at the imperial palace. In her later years, she wrote “Precept for Women,” which set forth such virtues as well as specific etiquette and requirements in the areas of virtue, speech, appearance, and work.