The grand, Tang Dynasty-inspired stage set revealed on Sept. 30 was flanked by portraits of four women—Xi Shi, Wang Zhaojun, Diao Chan, and Yang Guifei.
These “Four Beauties” of ancient China are remembered not only for their renowned beauty, but for changing the direction of Chinese history through their actions and sacrifices. Their unparalleled beauty put them in positions where they had to make critical choices, oftentimes at the cost of their own comfort and happiness, that decided the fate of the dynasty.
The ancients knew that beauty, tempered by virtue, could save a nation just as easily as beauty alone could bring its downfall. As such, the NTD pageant put a focus on five virtues prominent in traditional Chinese culture, especially for women: morality, righteousness, propriety, benevolence, and faithfulness. Contestants were judged on these as much as they were on their poise, talent, and presentation. Contestants conveyed this in the way they carried themselves during the week-long event, as well as the mission statements and interviews given on stage.
At the end of the night, Cynthia Sun from Texas was crowned Miss NTD, with 11 other young women being awarded additional titles.
A Beautiful ReminderSitting in the audience was Amanda DeBraux and Janel Koloski, co-hosts of the podcast Mindset Artistry and certified life coaches. The return to traditional values was a moving reminder for the business partners.
“I thought it was very magical, I thought they brought a beautiful essence, said Ms. DeBraux. ”It made me think about how I view beauty and how diverse and versatile it can be, transcendent and very universal, and how it can tie to tradition and culture and how beautiful that is, especially in the world today.”
“I think we need more beauty, and more love and more humanity in the things that we touch and experience in this life, in this world,” Ms. DeBraux added.
Ms. DeBraux said that though she and the pageant contestants come from different cultures, she saw the values underpinning beauty were culturally universal, and felt inspired to connect with her own culture deeply.
Making the World a Better PlaceMs. Koloski agreed and felt it was uplifting to see the pageant focus on traditional values, “these core values that these wonderful women have.”
“I do think it’s something that’s missing in this world,” said. Ms. Koloski, who is also a human rights activist and advocate for people with special needs. She said the event was a reminder of what is important.
“Every day is a little scarier because I’m thinking, what’s becoming of humanity? Why do people care less and less? So it’s so nice to watch the event ... they have these beautiful values and they really care, and they’re leaders. It was so refreshing, the event,” she said. “It’s just beautiful to see there are all these humans out there wanting to make the world a better place.”
Judge Mark Lubric, founder of a modeling agency, said the pageant’s mission was one that was good for society.
“I think when you look at the society today, when you look at broken families, divisions among people, I think one of the root causes of that is people have moved so far away from traditional values,” he said.
Influencers reach more people than ever with the help of social media, he added, but not all of them bring positive messages. “I think the young generation look up to that a lot,” Mr. Lubric said. Indeed, various polls show that anywhere between 30 to 80 percent of young people surveyed say they would like to become social media influencers.
Universal StandardJudge Gabriel Georgiou, a celebrity stylist, said the focus on traditional values was why he agreed to join the jury panel.
External beauty is still important, several judges shared, because it’s a emblematic of one taking care of themselves, being considerate of others, and is affected by how one carries themselves.
Mr. Georgiou said they also looked at the energy, confidence, grace, talent, eloquence, and charisma of all the contestants.
Judge Showyen Liu, CFO of tech company Ganjing World, said the inner beauty of all the young women really came out through “their wisdom, their talent, their poise, their intellect.”
Ms. Liu said she was proud of the newly crowned Miss NTD, Cynthia Sun, who as a Chinese American, possessed all of the qualities traditional Chinese young women possess.
“Not only is she beautiful, she’s poised, she’s smart, she’s wise, and she’s kind,” she said.
Judge Alison Chen, an assistant professor of dance at Fei Tian College, said that over the course of the week, the young women grew in leaps and bounds.
“They’re actually very supportive of each other,” she shared. Although it was a competition, they helped each other, supported each other, cheered each other on, and celebrated for each other.
“I think that was something that was very, very precious, and very much in line with the meaning of the pageant ... advocating these traditional values of kindness and selflessness,” she said. “I think they’ve enlightened to and they’re actually able to embrace this part of the culture, what it means to be a selfless woman and a caring woman, so I’m very proud of them.”
Ancient Chinese women would have been reserved, even bashful, but elegant, and carry an intrinsic sort of charm, Ms. Chen said. The pageant is being held by an American company in the West, so the outward expression of the same values would be more confident and charismatic, she explained.
“I think that kind of criteria, it’s not bound by Eastern or Western, it’s a universal sort of outlook on what is beautiful,” she said.
The pageant sought to reclaim the traditional view of beauty, and Ms. Chen felt the young women did it.
“We’ve made history,” she said.
The Concept of BeautyBelle Meng, second runner-up and Best in Fitness Wear awardee, described the warm atmosphere of everyone helping each other and caring for each other, becoming like sisters by the end of the week-long event. Toward the end, they had to encourage each other not to cry.
“Everyone came here from so far, from different countries, and this is our last day together,” Ms. Meng said. “Everyone here is so selfless ... we’re like family and friends, instead of competitiors.”
Ms. Meng said that her concept of beauty stemmed from Creation. Traditional cultures from around the world all say that humankind was created by God, and that their cultures were gifts from the divine, she explained.
“Their various expressions of beauty, like aesthetic beauty, benevolence, kindness, these were the earliest expressions of honoring the divine, expressing our faith toward God,” she said. “We are all children of God, we were created by God, and from God we have received these wonderful, virtuous qualities as well.”
“One’s inner beauty, like the focus of this competition ... is for me an expression of faith,” she said. “Maybe this is a foreign idea to some people, but I think ... a person’s expression can be pure and kind, and they can adhere to a high moral standard, have a calm heart, and even connect with the divine, receiving lessons from God. This has to do with your faith. I think all believers have this sense.”
Vicky Zhao, runner-up and Best in Dancing awardee, said she hoped the kindness shared by everyone through the pageant will continue to spread.
“I think true beauty ... is a manifestation of human nature,” she said. “[Your] original human nature is very pure, full of compassion, and that just really comes from inside and naturally spreads to the outside. I think that compassion is energy that can pass [from one to another].”
Wandi Zhu, fourth runner-up, said she was grateful to have met all her fellow contestants and felt all the more inspired for it.
“I’ve learned that beauty comes through sincerity. I’ve seen beauty in every single contestant here, but also every worker here. They’ve been so sincere in pouring their hearts into this,” she said. “I’ve seen that sincerity really translates into a kind of beauty that’s very, very inspired. I’m also very touched by what I experienced.”
Reserved in nature, Ms. Zhu said she was surprised by how quickly she became friends, even “sisters,” with the other young women. They had encouraged her, and inspired her to further reach out to others to share that same warmth.
“There is inner beauty in you. Regardless of what traditional culture you come from, I hope that you embrace that culture and that you’re able to find peace and beauty in that,” she said. “I think there is still so much beauty in this world and that you'll definitely be able to find that within yourself.”