Miss China isn't just a pretty face, former beauty queen says

Miss China isn't just a pretty face, former beauty queen says

Xu Jidan, a former beauty queen, has turned into a professional who helps other young women compete in the Miss Universe China pageant.

After winning the title in 2012, Xu represented her country at Miss Universe, in Las Vegas, where she was awarded the prize for Best National Costume.

"I don't want to be only a model. I want to do something more challenging, to be involved with what's going on behind the scenes," says the stunning 24-year-old, who is about 1.78 meters tall.

Xu is the executive manager for Miss Universe China, a job she has held since 2013.

She studied costume design at Donghua University in Shanghai, and wanted to do something more interesting than the nine-to-five routine.

After her one-year reign as Miss Universe China that required her to raise public awareness for charity, she joined the pageant management.

"Everyday work is unique. I meet a lot of interesting people such as celebrities and young candidates," she says.

She has been recruiting candidates from across China since March. The final competition will be held in August.

"It's not just about beautiful appearances. Educational backgrounds, talent shows and character-they all count," Xu says.

According to Xu, the pageant has started to attract more young Chinese women. In 2014, more than 5,000 people applied for the show through the official website, plus many more via on-site applications.

Last year, about 10 per cent of the applicants were overseas Chinese students and this year it is likely to be between 20 and 30 per cent, according to Xu.

Xu attributes the trend to students' exposure to developed pageant culture abroad.

She says in 2013, many of the applicants were people born in the late 1980s, but increasingly the next generation is taking over, with their enthusiasm for new ideas.

"Some people take it for granted that a pageant is just a catwalk. But it is more about raising the public's awareness on issues such as charity and promoting positive energy," Xu says.

Xu says pageant culture is popular in Western and Latin American countries, and the Philippines. They encourage young women not to become overnight celebrities, but to learn how to be more helpful to their communities.

It's also a kind of soft power diplomacy, to present China's image on the international stage, Xu says. Foreigners are curious about China, and knowing about confident and independent young Chinese women could be part of understanding China.

Before she travelled to Las Vegas for the Miss Universe pageant, she learned how to wear makeup and match clothes and fashion accessories.

At the time, she could speak only a few English sentences and undertook a three-month English training programme.

"The pageant has made me more outgoing. I used to be at a loss on how to make others understand me and communicate with them," she says.

For Xu, the crown is more than the symbol of a beauty queen. Only when she wore the crown did she understand her sense of mission and sense of honour of being a Chinese, she says.

During Miss Universe 2012, the organizers constantly referred to her and the other 88 candidates that year by the names of countries they represented. That felt special, she says.

"It was like being in the Olympic Games. If my performance was good, they would say Miss China is doing well," she explains.

"Sometimes the achievement is not the most important. You have to enjoy the process."

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