This article examines the tension between public gender expressions and official regulations in mainland China. Utilizing a critical discourse analysis, we investigate a transition in state-initiated criticism and censorship against the danmei genre and male effeminacy. Focusing on the pandemic period, we use official regulations and state media feature articles as data, ‘reticent / han-xu’ politics as a grounding theoretical basis, and statements from mainstream media platforms as secondary resources. We argue that han-xu politics functions as the Chinese party-state's strategic response to a perceived ‘crisis of masculinity’. They first invisibilize and marginalize soft masculinities, and if this is not effective, then suppress and prohibit cultural forms that violate hegemonic masculinity, which works to perpetuate the hetero-patriarchal social-familial system.