China wins Miss World 2007 title
By David Eimer on Hainan Island
It has taken five years of strutting and posing, and an annual fee believed to be worth £2 million, but China has achieved another of its global ambitions when a 23-year-old from Beijing was crowned Miss World.
Zi Lin Zhang, from Beijing, beat the other 105 contestants to become the first Chinese winner and the 57th Miss World, waving elegantly to her fans as the result was announced in Sanya, China.
Her victory vindicated the decision of the Chinese government to lift its former ban on beauty contests and pay the organisers of the competition to host it for four out of the last five years.
Since it was first held in Sanya in 2003, Miss World has become an invaluable publicity vehicle for the Chinese government. With a global television audience of more than two billion, according to organisers, it is one of the most-watched events on the planet.
This year, contestants helped promote the 2008 Beijing Olympics by singing the official anthem of the Olympic torch relay.
“We were asked to do it and we were happy to be part of it.
hey didn’t say, ’You have to do it’,” said Julia Morley, the chairman of the Miss World Organisation.
The arrival of Miss World in China has created a craze for beauty pageants, after more than 50 years of being banned by the Communist Party as decadent and demeaning to women.
As recently as 2002, police closed down the Miss China competition, saying it was not officially licensed.
Now, there are contests across China almost monthly, including Miss Artificial Beauty, for women who have had plastic surgery, and others for pensioners.
A business administration graduate and part-time model, Miss Zhang is one of the thousands of young Chinese women who were inspired to enter beauty pageants after Miss World came to Sanya.
“I think it is just a dream to be here,” she told The Sunday Telegraph a few hours before her win.
“When I was 18, I watched Miss World when it was first held in China and I thought it was fantastic. I knew then I wanted to be part of it.”
She had just three days to prepare for the month-long competition, which was held on World Aids Day and included a video message from Nelson Mandela promoting HIV awareness, having only become Miss China at the end of October.
Unlike the Miss World contests of old, contestants are no longer judged solely on their looks in a bikini.
During the month-long competition they were put through sporting and singing tests.
All 106 did appear briefly in bikinis, but they spent much longer in elaborate, designer gowns.
Miss Zhang won over the judges, who included former tennis player Annabel Croft and singer Duncan James, by expressing her desire to help promote the Beijing Olympics and to bring glory to her country. “I think education is more important that being beautiful,” she told The Sunday Telegraph.
Now, she believes she is the envy of most Chinese women.
“Miss World is very famous in China. I think deep down a lot of girls would like to take part in it,” said Miss Zhang, who at 182 cms (5ft 11 and a half inches) was the tallest of this year’s contestants.
Such sentiments are music to Mrs Morley’s ears.
A determined Londoner, she is the guiding light behind the contest, which was originally launched by her late husband Eric Morley in 1951 and remains enormously popular in Asia and South America.
She claims it has gone from strength to strength since the disastrous 2002 event, during which the contestants had to flee Nigeria after riots by Muslims protesting against it left 250 people dead.
The annual arrival of 100 beauty queens from around the globe has helped turn Sanya and Hainan Island into a booming tourist destination.
For hundreds of years, it was feared as the place where China’s emperors exiled those who had displeased them.
Now, it receives 16 million visitors a year, including more than half a million foreigners and is being promoted as the Hawaii of the Orient.
In April, Sanya’s director of tourism revealed the area had experienced an 83 per cent increase in international tourists since it first staged Miss World.
“It’s been a huge boost to their tourism and construction industries,” said Mrs Morley.
“They were so happy the property developers offered me a house. I said I’d rather have a children’s home for one of our charities, and so they built one.”
Sanya’s beaches have proved more popular with the contestants than Beijing, where they were taken to pose on the Great Wall and to attend a ball in aid of the Red Cross at the Great Hall of the People.
“To be honest, I prefer Sanya. Beijing was cold,” said Miss England, Georgia Horsley.
Isolated in a hotel with the other contestants, the 20 year-old from North Yorkshire hasn’t had much contact with the locals.
“I’ve not had much chance to speak to many Chinese. But I like China more than I thought I would,” she said.