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Summer on the streets of Chinese cities yields a panoply of exotic sights and sounds: old men loudly jousting over mah-jongg tiles, sidewalk barbecues grilling tough-to identify animal parts, and the unmistakable growl of a clearing throat — that ends with an inevitable splat.
But nothing defines China’s most sweltering season (or bewilders foreigners) more than the curious sartorial habits of grown men who neatly roll up their shirts to reveal bellies, often in glorious plenitude, without the teeniest hint of shame (nor the teeniest hint of a six-pack).
The exposed midriff, visible in shops, restaurants and hospital waiting rooms, often has a companion flourish, with practitioners rolling up their pants legs to just below the knee.
This, it will be explained upon asking, is a makeshift form of air-conditioning known as the Beijing Bikini. (Others somewhat disparagingly describe the phenomenon as “bang ye,” which roughly translates as “exposing yourself like a grandfather.”) It is on display anywhere where temperatures sizzle — urban or rural, private space or public sphere, recreational park or commercial shop.
Social convention bars women from engaging in similar displays of flesh.
Although adherents, often with cigarette and beer in hand, attest to the Beijing Bikini’s cooling health benefits, they face mounting hostility from educated upstarts or busybody bureaucrats who find the summer parade of bulging tummies uncouth and unbecoming of a great nation.
Chinese newspapers wage periodic propaganda campaigns against the look, but it endures and is increasingly visible abroad, proudly displayed by Chinese tourists outside New York City art museums, London’s Buckingham Palace and the Eiffel Tower in Paris.(news from the new york times)