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Teenage Beauty Queen Sparks Underage Modeling Concerns

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14-year-old Li Yuan, who won the Guangxi region section of the Miss Asia beauty contest earlier this month, has become a controversial star, with people concerned her effect as a role model will fuel underage modeling. "My daughter has been modeling for two years. She has won 50 prizes at various levels of model contests, and was the overall winner in 12 of them," said her mother Fan Xuefang.

Neither the solo mother nor the girl consider her age should be a concern in modeling, as long as she has the talent. Li Yuan said she would try her best to balance her modeling career and school studies, but would not say if she would go to senior high school next year.

The Miss Asia pageant, which is run by Asia Television Limited (aTV), has brought many famous stars, including Kristy Yeung and Nina Li Chi, into the limelight; attracts teenage girls who dream of being stars. The three top finalists are signed by aTV.

"The age limit of the preliminary contest in Guangxi was lowered to 14 this year from 16 in previous years," said He Gang, organizer of the regional heat.

"A lower age limit was piloted in Guangxi this year. In other areas, the age limit is still 16. We required minors to show their parents' approval in writing to take part in the contest, " he said.

He said: "I feel young contenders -- those born after 1990 -- are very independent. They are willing to go on stage to demonstrate their talent and courage.".

But fashion industry experts disagree.

"Underage girls may be tall enough but their immature bodies can't fully convey the charm of clothes. Our company doesn't recruit models younger than 16," said Li Xiaobai, chairman of Xin Silu (New Silk) Model Company, which is the oldest and largest modeling agency in China.

One of the judges in the contest in Guangxi, Sha Xiaofan, a veteran models' agent, said school-age contenders often did not display "culture, knowledge and intelligence."

"As an image ambassador, Miss Asia has to shoulder social responsibilities such as charity activities. A minor does not have adequate knowledge or understanding to take up the role," she said.

Sha said in China many underage models gave up schooling after winning modeling or beauty contests, since they became busy doing advertising work.

Li's mother said the 14-year-old girl could earn 500 yuan (US$73) at the most from each show. Winning the regional contest would further lift fees for her appearance.

Li will represent Guangxi in the Miss Asia country contest on September 15.

"There are more than 130 modeling contests in China every year, which means a champion is produced every three days," said Yang Qing, deputy head of the Qingdao-based Oriental Beauty Model Training School.

She said many beauty queens competing in pageants in Qingdao were aged under 16.

Yang said: "Most models finish their careers at 26, when they are considered too old for the job. They have given over their educational prospects for commercial shows. How can they face their future when youth is gone?"

"She looks very mature. You couldn't work out she was 14 from her appearance and demeanor," said a netizen who uses the name Ding Dingbang in Shikong.bbs, a popular Chinese chat room, discussing the young beauty queen.

(Xinhua News Agency August 15, 2009)

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