Student of the universe

Student of the universe
Fit for a queen: Xu Naiqing receives her Miss Universe China crown from 2013's winner, Jin Ye.

CHINA - In July, Xu Naiqing was just another sophomore at Shanghai Donghua University trying to decide which classes to take next semester. Like all students, she spent hours agonizing between classes that suit her personal interests and those in which she may achieve good grades.

On the night of Sept 13, however, the 19-year-old native of Luoyang, Henan province, stepped out of her student attire to be crowned Miss Universe China, 2014 at Shangri-La Pudong hotel in Shanghai, swapping school books for the popping of champagne corks.

Xu is the youngest Miss China to take the crown since the world's most famous beauty pageant was introduced into China in 2002.

"It's so surreal. This morning when I woke up, the first thing I asked my father was, 'is it a dream? Did I became Miss Universe China? Did it actually happen?'" Xu told Shanghai Star, joking she felt like an ugly duckling turned into a swan.

Xu was chosen by Yue-sai Kan, the national director of Miss Universe China, from hundreds of students and models and went on to be one of the 15 finalists in the competition.

On the night of the final, Xu strutted across the stage in a tight, black fishtail dress, decorated with emerald sequins. She later dazzled the crowd wearing a silver bikini. But the judges and audience agree, that it was her brilliant answers during the Q&A session that tipped the odds in her favour, as "beauty might be the last factor at a national beauty pageant filled with beautiful women from all over China," Yue-sai Kan says.

Xu, the only child of a middle-class family, (her father is an engineer and her mother a bank clerk) was asked how she would respond to criticisms that accuse beauty pageants of only being skin deep.

"If I were chosen as Miss Universe China, I think I would be the best example of how positively a beauty pageant can impact a girl," she said.

The panel of six judges included Chinese entertainment tycoon Wang Zhonglei, Olivia Culpo who was the winner of Miss Universe 2012, and Zhuang Yong, China's first gold medal winner in swimming and the founder of Tulip Mega Media Group, the largest outdoor billboard company in the country.

Hu Yanliang from Beijing won second place while Peng Muyi from Hunan province came in third at the three-hour-long competition. The event also included Kan's annual charity dinner, which has raised 5 million yuan this year. The money will be used for operations for children with cleft lips.

As Miss Universe China, Xu will receive a 3.5-million-yuan diamond and gold tiara, sponsored by Luk Fook Jewellery, and tickets to some of the world's most exclusive parties, galas and dinners, thanks to Kan, known as "the Chinese Oprah".

When asked what she thinks helped her win the crown, Xu becomes very serious. "I think I am the person that if I want attention from everyone in the audience, I will strive by every means to get it. And usually, I can get it."

The dilemma now for the fashion design and display major is whether to suspend her studies completely to prepare for the global final in December in the United States, or juggle her classes with lessons from the language teachers and fitness coaches Kan has hired for her.

Standing at 1.78 meters tall, with delicate features, the part-time model who has been gracing catwalks since the age of 13, is far from an "ugly duckling".

Xu was chosen by Yue-sai Kan, the national director of Miss Universe China, from hundreds of students and models and went on to be one of the 15 finalists in the competition.

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