Thirty-two young women from around the globe had arrived for the start of the week-long beauty pageant that focuses on inner beauty—specifically the five virtues of morality, righteousness, propriety, benevolence, and faithfulness.
“You are making history,” pageant organizer Richard Yin told the contestants on the first day.
A Different PageantNTD stands for New Tang Dynasty, referencing the golden age of ancient China. The television network hosts a series of competitions, including the pageant, in its effort to support traditional culture. Like the rest of the competition series, the pageant emphasizes “pure authenticity, pure goodness, and pure beauty.”
“We all know that over the course of several decades past, the pure and exemplary beauty has been lost more and more,” said Mr. Yin, deputy director of the NTD competition series. “Today, we are here to recover what has been lost, to lift up ... the true essence of beauty and showcase it to the whole world.”
The inaugural beauty pageant is open only to women of Chinese descent and places great emphasis on the five virtues highlighted in traditional Chinese culture. In the preliminary interviews, contestants received training about traditional culture, etiquette, and Chinese history, including the stories of the “Four Beauties” who changed the fate of the nation in ancient China.
The contestants’ understanding of and adherence to the five virtues will play a big part in the final score, the organizers explained, and the 32 young women are reclaiming the idea of beauty.
Beauty pageants have been in play for about a century, beginning with the Miss America of the 1920s.
“I feel that the moral compass of the beauty pageant, and the tradition, has gone awry and gone away,” said Lauren Malis, pageant director, at a press conference opening the weeklong events. “Years ago, when Miss America first came on, it was traditional beauty, traditional values, home life, family, education, and over the years, all of that has gone away from some of the beauty pageants that we see today.”
During orientation on day one, the young women introduced themselves to each other for the first time, sharing a wide range of backgrounds and experiences. Almost none of them had participated in anything like a beauty pageant before, but were indeed united in their mission to bring truth, goodness, and beauty into the world.
MotivationXinru Song just moved to Los Angeles from China a year ago, and said it felt like a predestined relationship when she came across the pageant on social media.
“I think traditional culture and beauty is something internal, it’s something you live, not something you learn to display overnight,” said Ms. Song, a media broadcaster. “I was nervous before I arrived, but now that I’ve met everyone, everyone is so kind, and talented; they all have positive points unique to them. I really look forward to learning while I’m here.”
Fiona Ji, a university student from Toronto, speaks English, Mandarin, French, Spanish, and German, and said though she’s always had an interest in traditional Chinese culture, growing up in the West left few opportunities for it.
“So when I heard about this pageant, I thought it was such a unique and special opportunity to just really learn more about my heritage and improve myself as a woman and a person,” she said. “I want to bring to people, especially girls around my age, that there’s a lot of pride in cultivating your inner self. There’s so much beauty in trying to improve yourself morally, and to try to elevate your virtue.”
Paulina Liu, from Taiwan, said when she was introduced to the competition via her aunt, she noticed the upper age limit was 30 and she just fell into the age bracket. “I thought it would be nice to show people that women at 30 are beautiful, confident, and comfortable,” she said.
She was nervous when she first applied, wondering whether she should cram and study history, ancient poems, and so on. Then she took a moment to calm down and write some calligraphy.
“I just needed to cherish what I already have; it’s really a long-term effort, much like fitness,” she said.
Leah Pan, from Australia, said she felt the pageant would become something symbolic.
“It really is an iconic moment for a lot of people to come here and represent the true traditional values of China and what our culture is all about,” she said. “Inner beauty is all about what we see in ourselves and what we see in other people as well, and I think expressing that mission is really important.”
“I love everyone, everyone’s so sweet and I love how we all share the same mission, and we’re all here to learn and improve ourselves and also foster community, and most importantly, we’re here to really be there for other people, even at a worldwide, global scale,” said Ms. Pan.
Laura Danne, from Germany, said she was moved by NTD’s mission to promote traditional Chinese culture and the opportunity to connect with her heritage.
“I have so much heart for NTD’s mission,” she said. “So many people in my generation, they don’t know traditional culture, traditional values, and I want to show them it’s actually a very great cultural heritage, and you can learn a lot from it, and it really improves the morality of society.”