Han Ming gives a modeling lesson to her male students at Harbin University for Seniors in Harbin, Heilongjiang province. (LIU YANG/FOR CHINA DAILY)
Northeastern university helps tweak gender stereotypes
Harbin University for Seniors in Heilongjiang province is now offering a course to its elderly male student body that was formerly only available to "coeds".
Popular courses including calligraphy, singing and painting continue to attract students from both sexes, and now a fashion modeling class is available to men for the first time.
"The university has a long history of offering modeling courses for female students and they have been wildly popular," teacher Han Ming said. "However, this is the first time we've offered the course to males."
Han, 62, has taught the female modeling course at the university for four years.
"My female models attracted lots of onlookers during class and I was often asked when the course would be opened to men," she said. "This is how I got the adventurous idea to offer it for both genders."
However, when her application to teach the course to men was approved, she said she became nervous. "Most people feel that fashion shows are only for women, so I worried about there not being enough male students choosing to take the course."
Actually, her concerns were not unfounded. Before the first class on March 5, only 18 men had registered.
"According to university regulations, courses with less than 20 students are canceled," Han said. "Fortunately, I received great support from university officials who believed it would be a promising potential course, so I received an exemption and was allowed to offer it."
The class did not disappoint, and every Monday morning, 34 students－most older than 60－arrive for class, all wearing white shirts, black trousers and black leather shoes.
"The students' upright postures and confident expressions attracted lots of students from adjacent classrooms," she said.
"And nine of them decided to join us at once."
The class is now at full capacity, with each student paying 180 yuan () for 32 classes.
"I began the modeling course from the second class after quitting tai chi," said Feng Yishun, 78, the oldest student in the classroom. "I had been learning tai chi for two years and acquired the basic techniques, so I wanted to try something different.
"Some of my neighbors couldn't understand why an elderly man would choose to learn modeling as in their opinion models should be women in slit skirts. I don't care. It can bring me better physical fitness and improves my mood. That is my goal."
Strong support from his family is also an important motivator, he said, adding: "My daughter bought the required uniform for me. I hope my family members can see the change this has brought about in me."
Xin Debin, 66, has been waiting to take the class for a long time.
"I was an art enthusiast as a teenager, but I had little chance of realizing my dream," he said. "After retiring four years ago, I began to take different classes here, including ballroom dancing and vocal music.
When he first noticed the female fashion modeling course, he said he began to look forward to taking part. "So when I heard that Han would offer the course for men, I quickly signed up."
He said the classes make his life richer and fuller. "I just want to tell my peers that it's never too late to start living out your dream," he added.
Wang Xuelin, 63, has been an amateur model for three years.
"When Han asked me to come and help improve the level of her class, I promised without hesitation, as I hope I can share my experiences with those who are interested in fashion," she said.
"When we stood together and I explained basic points to them, I seemed to find myself going back in time three years.
"Fashion modeling can express your manliness no matter how old you are."
Han said all her students have made rapid progress, even after only four classes.
"Going forward, I will teach them more about fashion, and I have a plan to create a unique show that will be performed during the university's annual stage extravaganza," she added. "I believe they can perform perfectly."