We hung out with hunks at China's first gay male beauty pageant

The men, muscles and milk cartons of China's first Mr Gay China competition

Ultimate winner of Mr Gay China Meng Fanyu (left) with fellow competitors
It's midnight on Friday at Icon, Shanghai's hottest gay club, and we're watching a guy on stage enthusiastically suck off a cucumber. We're here in an official capacity – as a judge in China's very first Mr Gay China competition – but we've drunk enough gin and tonics by that point that it turns out we'll cheer for almost anything, vegetable fellatio included.

The route that has led us to this slightly surreal scenario has until now been uncharted in China. In 2010, Mr Gay China – a contest in the vein of a Miss World pageant – suffered a false start in Beijing, when it was over before it began, shut down by police who arrived at the glitzy LAN nightclub an hour before kick-off. Tontou, the Shanghai-based events company behind the 2016 revival, managed to avoid the same fate, and spent June and July accepting hundreds of applications, which were whittled down via an interview process. But what is it that they're looking for, exactly? Who, in their minds, is Mr Gay China?

Mr Gay China

'This is basically a beauty pageant contest, therefore looks and physique are fairly important,' says Tontou's Kate Sun, one of the chief organisers. 'We will first look at the applicants' looks and physiques during the selection process. If they've met these two criteria, we will look at their "inner beauty" like their academic background, profession, and cultural inclinations.' Six contestants compete against one another in one of three preliminary heats, and two – chosen via a combination of votes taken from online, the live audience, media, and special guests – went on to last month's grand final.

Along with bragging rights, the winner receives a cash prize, a trip abroad, and will act as the spokesperson for the brand – and they'll also compete for the title of Mr Gay World.

Number 11

The media interest in the contest has been high, in part, presumably, because of the titillating opportunity to print hot pics of manflesh (see above). One of the contestants at Icon is harnessing the attention to help a cause he's passionate about: HIV awareness. William (contestant No 12) volunteers with Shanghai NGO Qing Ai, which is focused on HIV and Aids prevention (although he's also a fashion designer). Qing Ai asked William to enter Mr Gay China. 'It's not important whether I win the competition or not,' William tells us. 'It's more to get volunteers to join the cause and get away from HIV.' Later on, William proves a hit with the crowd, and it's clear he's already well-regarded among the city's gay community.

The contestants are given a brief introduction and interview by a dickie-bowed compere, and it's not long before the show becomes a saucy affair. After the first catwalk, during which the contestants whip off their shirts to much hysteria, a bonus lap involving just underwear commences. The crowd begin to get quite handsy, and there's some definite crotch-grabbing going on. It transpires that, lo and behold, each contestant has a different sort of surprise hidden in their pants. Another popular contestant is 250-pound beefcake DaDa (contestant No 10), who works in business management and won't tell us his age – only revealing that he has a 16-year-old son. DaDa has got a carton of milk nestled in his pants, which he removes, rips open with his teeth and pours down his chest in a practically pornographic moment that sends the audience wild. Personal trainer Ben Duo (contestant No 8) reveals the aforementioned cucumber, and attends to it in a manner that is definitely pornographic.

Milk Man

Look past the smut, however, and the more meaningful implication of the title itself comes into focus. 'The main aim of this competition is to educate the general public that the LGBT community is healthy, active and positive,' states Sun. The LGBT community in China lacks rights and recognition, and a survey by the United Nations Development Programme in May estimated that just 5 percent of China's LGBT citizens have come out of the closet.

We ask the ebullient DaDa how he feels he would cope with the fame that would come with being a prominent gay figure in China, and he shrugs and says he will be 'alright' with it. When pressed about the prospect of representing LGBT Chinese on a global stage at Mr Gay World, DaDa looks startled and says that's the first he's heard of it. 'I haven’t thought that far ahead – I don't know if I’ll win the competition.' Asked the same question, Ben Duo looks uncomfortable and asks us to move on. We wonder if either of them have thought this through properly.

After a raunchy finale on August 5, the ultimate winner of the first Mr Gay China competition was announced, with 27-year-old Meng Fanyu taking home the title. Only time will tell whether Mr Gay China will become a de-facto political figure, but for now, the competition can exist as raucous fun.

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