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Clockwise from top: Miss Universe China contestants compete in the swimsuit segment in Shanghai. Participants prepare backstage. Xu Jidan is crowned Miss Universe China, while Paris Hilton watches. Xu Jidan (middle), Xu Lingyue (right) and Zhang Yutong (second from right) are officially China's top beauties. Photos by Gao Er'qiang / China Daily
A 22-year-old model from Jilin province, Xu Jidan, was crowned Miss Universe China on Saturday and will represent the country in the Miss Universe finals, in New York. Xu Junqian reports in Shanghai.
There were tears and tiaras, controversy and congratulations as 22-year-old model Xu Jidan was made Miss Universe China on Saturday night.
Xu, from Liaoyuan, Jilin province, was dressed in a creamy white ball gown while being crowned with a 3.68 million yuan ($580,000) diamond tiara by 2011's Miss Universe China, Luo Zilin, also the fourth runner-up of Miss Universe 2011.
The 1.8-meter-tall graduate from Shanghai Donghua University, impressed the judges and audience with a flamenco dance performance.
The Miss Universe Shanghai titleholder was showered with flowers and ticker tape after winning the two-hour contest held in a Shanghai Media Group studio, which was broadcast live online.
"There is no winning or losing on this stage. Every girl is stunning in her own way, and I am just very lucky," Xu said.
Xu Lingyue, 20, from Yunnan province, was second; and Zhang Yutong, 18, from Jilin province, was third.
The crowning of Miss Universe China - following that of Miss International China and Miss World over the past weeks - marks the end of a dramatic period in China's beauty contest history.
The pageants received a lot of attention on social networking sites, particularly Sina Weibo, where some of the contestants were called ugly and claims of bribery were made.
"The overwhelming attention came as a great surprise to me, since Chinese are rather strange when it comes to pageant culture and are quite indifferent to events like this," says Yue-Sai Kan, the national director of Miss Universe China.
"But what we are selecting is not only a good-looking girl, but also a comprehensive beauty."
"And I can guarantee 100 percent that the process of Miss Universe China is fair and not manipulated," she adds.
While contests to find new models or compete to take part in commercials have been a part of Chinese culture since the 1990s, it was not until the turn of the century that beauty contests became a regular occurrence.
Kan, who took over the direction of Miss Universe China in 2011, recalled her first year as an "extremely hectic experience".
"Luckily, we made it through and got (Luo) Zilin as fourth runner-up," says Kan, who came up with the slogan "Cheering for Chinese Women" as the contest's slogan.
"Miss Universe China is more than just a beauty pageant, it is a serious platform to provide education, support charity and build confidence, which is more important than winning prizes and receiving accolades."
There has never been a Chinese winner of the Miss Universe pageant, which started as a bathing suit competition in 1952 and is now dubbed the "Olympics" of beauty pageants, with an audience of 1 billion viewers every year.
The Miss Universe China pageant has grown in China from just 200 online registrants in 2011 to more than 5,000 from 19 cities and seven provinces this year.
With Paris Hilton - the American socialite and heiress to the Hilton Hotel Group - on the judging panel, this year's final saw 21 participants competing in the swimsuit, evening gown, talent show and Q&A sessions.
Xu, the new Miss Universe China, will compete with hundreds of beauties from all over the world in December, in New York.
But before that, she has to undergo another three months of intensive training offered by Kan and her team.
"Chinese women clearly have the confidence, beauty, grace and intellect to win the title. And I hope we will one day see a Miss Universe winner from China," Kan says. "But no matter the outcome, we will do our best to celebrate Chinese women."
(China Daily 09/04/2012 page18)