For Cynthia Sun, being crowned Miss NTD came as something completely unexpected.
“I’ve never worn heels for so long in my life!” said the 24-year-old from Houston, Texas. Ms. Sun is a human rights advocate, social issues researcher, spokesperson with the Falun Dafa Information Center. She recently moved to New York. Drawn to the mission of reviving traditional culture, she joined the inaugural NTD Global Chinese Beauty Pageant and made it to the final round before ultimately being crowned the winner on Sept. 30.
NTD stands for New Tang Dynasty, referencing the golden age of ancient Chinese civilization. The network, a sister media to The Epoch Times, hosts a series of competitions in its mission to support traditional culture. As such, the pageant focuses not just on outer beauty and presentability, but also five virtues prominent in traditional Chinese culture: morality, righteousness, propriety, benevolence, and faithfulness.
It was the focus on traditional culture that drew Ms. Sun to join a beauty pageant in the first place.
“I think I was intrigued by the mission part of it, which was to revive and rejoice in the traditional values of being a traditional Chinese woman,” she said.
Fast Friendships and Sisterhood
Ms. Sun described the week-long pageant as “precious and meaningful, for sure,” not only because of the deep friendships formed with the 31 other young women from all around the world, but because the experience put her more in touch with her heritage.
Ms. Sun was born and raised in Texas, and attended the University of Texas—Austin. She initially had the sense that several other girls had much more knowledge of and connection with their Chinese heritage, and were much better prepared and suited for the competition. After the crowning ceremonies, she realized just how much she’d learned in the short period of time.
“It just really struck me how much I’ve grown this entire week, how much more tightly knit with traditional Chinese heritage” she’d become, she said. “It was an amazing learning opportunity, not just about broadcast, not just about what a beauty contestant is, but how traditional Chinese women should be, and how those values can be embodied in us, and how that shows in our actions towards each other as well as what messages we send out into the world.”
“I really feel like we all did this as a team. I’m not winning this crown for myself—it represents the growth that all of the girls have gone through.”
“We call each other jie-mei, which is ‘sisters’ in Chinese, because it really feels like it,” she said. “We’ve been living together, we’ve been training together, day and night, day and night, and it feels like all of our hearts were one tonight.”
“Tomorrow everyone is going to travel thousands of miles back to their hometowns around the world, but I really feel like this moment we have right now is so special, and we’ll remember it for the rest of our lives,” she said.
Voice for the Voiceless
Ms. Sun works in government advocacy, speaking out for people being persecuted for their faith in communist China. As Miss NTD, she hopes to amplify the voices of those believers who live under oppression.
“I’ve met so many people individually who have told me their stories from being persecuted for their faith,” she said. “It’s a meaningful and fulfilling opportunity to be able to share their voices with the world. Give voice to the voiceless, that’s what we always say.”
“Tonight, among the 32 contestants there have been some who have escaped persecution in China, and they’ve had very deep and meaningful things to share with me over the past few days. Just hearing that also really makes me want to elevate this meaning and this human rights issues to a broader scale. It’s an international issue. It’s an issue that pertains to every individual.”
China has been a communist country for less than a century, and before that, China had a legacy of 5,000 years of unbroken recorded history. It was once called the “Land of the Divine” and the “Celestial Empire,” as the Chinese believed their culture was a gift from the heavens. Though predominantly ethnically Han, China was a diverse state with 50-some ethnic minorities. The overarching belief across different groups and dynasties was the central tenet of living in harmony with heaven, earth, and mankind.
But since the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) took power in 1949, it has launched numerous violent campaigns to eradicate Chinese traditional culture and history. Even today, Uyghur Muslims, Christians, and practitioners of Falun Dafa (also known as Falun Gong) are persecuted for their faith. The human rights abuses against believers range from slander and imprisonment to torture and live organ harvesting.
As an advocate, Ms. Sun raises awareness about such issues, and will use her platform to shed light on the human rights issues, many of which the CCP has long tried to keep hidden.
For Ms. Sun, inner beauty and confidence are intrinsically connected.
“I really believe that if we can showcase our inner beauty, our self confidence, groundedness, and knowing who we are, if we translate that and spread that message to everyone else, I feel a lot of people will be able to ground themselves more firmly in their cultures, their heritage, their background, their family,” she said. “That’ll make for a much more prosperous and successful society as a whole.”
Miss NTD was awarded the five-sapphire phoenix crown, a $10,000 cash prize, 18 karat white gold set of matching Heavenly Phoenix necklace and earrings, and other gifts.
She will also be granted the opportunity of a year of worldwide media coverage and promotion across social media platforms, and have the opportunity to host an NTD program, serve as master of ceremonies for NTD events, take part in global speech and travel opportunities, and attend as guest of honor at several events.
With reporting by NTD
From The Epoch Times