In the West, the term sexualization is normally used in the negative. It is normally considered a bad thing to sexualize women, children, and I suppose men or animals when that happens.
Westerners see sexualization as a form of “objectifying” or “pornifying” people, reducing whole persons with complex psychologies to little more than objects of sexual pleasure.
I have no argument against the term when used that way in the right context.
Sexualization in China, however, (as an idea not the term) has a very different context than in the West, particularly the sexualization of women.
In the West, women benefited from various long traditions that worshiped them, Romanticized them, restricted men to one wife (not the case in China), prevented cousin-marriage, and sexualized them in the sense that they were and are considered beautiful and desirable by most men.
This is not the case in China. In traditional China, women were treated more as chattel, as son-makers, as workers, slaves, servants, or prostitutes. Few were deeply appreciated and openly admired for their physical beauty. There was no concept of Romantic love or deep pair-bonding between a man and a woman as in the West.
So if you come across a story about a Chinese pageant that sees models compete for best cleavage as I did today, it is best to understand it in a different context than you would in the West, for these pageants have a different purpose than they do in the West, at least in part.
Of course, some aspects of the Chinese pageant may be even raunchier than in the West, but at least one aspect has the purpose of overcoming Chinese cultural features that have for centuries deeply under-appreciated women by what are now modern standards.
There has been an effort for some time in China to raise the level of appreciation Chinese men have for women by portraying women as beautiful and desirable through media exposure and beauty pageants. Less than thirty-five years ago all women in China wore the same Mao clothes and before that dress was mostly traditional staid clothing that covered and de-emphasized female physical beauty. Confucius was not a sensualist.
The sexualization of women—even through cleavage contests—is serving to raise the standards of the whole society for when women are desired they will be valued and not be so much abused.
The above comments can be disputed in many ways, but the gist is correct. My information on the propaganda of creating a “modern” sense of the beauty of women comes from discussions in China many years ago with people who I believe knew what they were talking about. These efforts began in the 1980s and 90s with the new policies that opened China to the world.
I am sure the pageants mostly run under their own steam now, but the need is still there. To this day many women in China and Southeast Asia are kidnapped to feed the amazingly large industry of bride-selling in China. Buying a kidnapped “bride” and chaining her to a bed so she can produce a son, obviously, is not based on appreciating her beauty. That whole villages support the practice shows that it is deeply entrenched in the culture.
To me it seems a bit odd that the beauty of Chinese women is promoted by using Western lingerie and other styles, but it is easiest to import something and that is the state of a lot of world culture today.