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Beauty: The Wisdom of Women

Beauty: The Wisdom of Women

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Published by mwobrien
Cover feature from the Autumn 2009 edition of the Beijing-based magazine 'The World of Chinese', exploring ancient and modern Chinese conceptions of feminine beauty.
Cover feature from the Autumn 2009 edition of the Beijing-based magazine 'The World of Chinese', exploring ancient and modern Chinese conceptions of feminine beauty.

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Published by: mwobrien on Mar 31, 2011
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04/02/2011

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WHATrI'M
BEA1JTIFIJI
MarkO'Brien
Maill:
NOren
deZhlhul
~HB:kAOO~_
There
is
anoldsayingthatgoes'Beauty
is
thewisdomofwom-en.'ButwhatdomodernChinesewomen,whobuycosmeticsfromWesternbrandspromotedbybeautifulblondesandbrunettesfromAmericaandEurope,thinkofbeauty?Whoaretheiricons?Andhowimportantdoeslookinggoodmeantothem?
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E
verydayoftheweek,officeworkerscomeandgoattheliahuiInternationalCenter-thehomeof
TheWorldofChinese
magazine,situatedinthebeatingbeartofBei-jing.Astheystandsilentlyinelevators,waitingtoarriveatfloors,theystareattelevisionscreensdisplayingthesameadver-tisementsoverandoveragain.Thereisacertainetiquetteweawkwardlysubscribetowhenwetakearideinanelevatoratahigh-risebuildinginLondonorewYork;thescreensatthisofficeinBeijingareaninspireddesignchoice,fortheygiveyousomethingmoreinterestingtolookatthanyourshoes.Thecommercialsaren'tparticularlyexciting,evenifyouknowthelanguage:standard,run-of-the-millspotsforKFCandHyundaimotorcars.But,then,apretty,light-skinnedChinesefacecomesonthescreen,promotingaskincarelineforOlay,"She'snotbad,"saysmyEnglishfriend.It'sthefirstcommercialwe'veseenthatinspiresanykindofresponse."She'sverybeautiful,"concursaChinesegirlfromtheoffice,"butnotimpressive."ThegirlinthecommercialisFan
Bingbing,
Describedas"theprettiestChineseactress"sheisasrenownedforherrefinedelegant
beauty
assheisforherprodigiousactingtalent.Indeed,tomanyWeternerswhovisitBeijingforthefirsttime,shewillbeoneofthefewChinesefacestheyfindmonopolisticallygracingthepost-ersofcosmeticslabelsattbePacificCenterdepartmentstoreortheshoppingMeccathatistheVillageinSanlitun.Here,Westernbrandsselltheirwareswithimagesofbright-smilingblue-eyedAmericanblondesorsultryMediterraneanbrunettes.ButFangracefullywieldsamesmericpowerwithhereyeswhich,thoughlikedarkgemstones,arelargeandwide.Theyhaveaninnocentqualitytothem,comple-mentedbythesilkenradianceofherskin.Yetthisimpressionofavirginalpurityisqualifiedbythefull-neofherpinklipsandthesuggestivemannerinwhichshecarriesherself.entirelyconsciousofherownsexualappeal.ThisisasubtleonrradictionfoundalsoinWesternwomen,evidencedbytheiruseofliptick,anti-agingcreamorhairdyetostriveforalookwhichnotonlyhighlightstheiryouthfulness,butalsocallsattentiontotheirsexualmaturity.Ifonepaysevenafleeting,respectfulglanceatanyofthecountlesyoungChinesewomenwhoshareFan'scomplex-ion,andeeacrownofsablehairsryledaroundapale-skinnedvis-ag,theywillnoticethatthemoststrikingaspectofherappearanceisthewhitenessofherskin.Butonebaulksatdescribingherwithword"pale;"toaWesterneye,"pale"isnotnecessarilyapositive
562009ISSUE6
affirmationofawoman'sbeauty.Apallid,pastycomplexiontendstoberegardedaswashed-outandsickly,hencewhyWesternwomenheadtobeachesandsun-bedsforthatbronzed,sun-kissedlook.ButhereinliesoneofthefirsttruthsoffemininebeautyfortheChinese;atruthrootedjustasmuchinChinesecultureandsocialhistoryasitisinwhatcatchestheeyeofChinesemen.Itissome-thingthatavisitorcaninterpretfromthescoresofyoungwomenholdingumbrellasabovetheirheadswhilstwalkingaroundonanywarm,sunnyafternoon.ApalercomplexionisassoughtafterbyChinesewomenasatanwouldbebymostEuropeansorAmericans.Indeed,throughouthistory,thishasbeenso:forthousandsofyearsskintonehassignifiedsocialstatus;darkskinbetrayedalifetimeoftoilinthebakingsunasa'farminggirl,whereasapalerhuehastypi-callybeenregardedaskeepinginwiththemodeloffemininefrailtyandmeekness.Itwasonlyduringthe'CulruralRevolution,whencos-meticswereshunned,thatmasculineuniformsandhairstyleswereadoptedbywomen,anddarkerskinbecamevaluedasemblematicofatruerevolutionary"holaboredhardforthemotherland.
..,thepresenceofsomanywhiteEuropeanandAmericanfacesonbillboardsandcom-mercialsinChina'ssprawlingmetropoliseshassubtlybutcertainlyinfluencedcontempo-raryChineseconceptionsofbeauty.
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Butideaschange.Whatconstitutesbeautyvariesnotonlyfromculturetocultureandhistoricalperiodtohistoricalperiod,butfromhumanbeingtohumanbeingandhearttoheart._Ionetheless,inan_timeandplace,
-a
particularconceptionofbeautyispaintedonthecanvasofthecollectiveconsciousness.ThepremiumthatChinesewomenplaceonwhiter,snowy,palerskintendstosetthemapartfromWesterners.ButthepresenceofsomanywhiteEuropeanAmericanfacesonbillboardsandcommercialsinChina'sspra-ingmetropoliseshassubtlybutcertainlyinfluencedcontemporaryChineseconceptionsofbeauty.OneofthemostvisibledifferencesbetweenaChinesewomanatypicalEuropeanwomancanbefoundintheeyes.otunheard
0:
amongChinesewomenisacosmeticsurgeryprocedureknown.blepharoplastyaprocesswhichliftsorcutstheeyelidtocreatezdefinedlineacrosstheskin,givingthemeyeswhichlookbigger.
 
ThelegendaryFourGreatBeauties(fromlefttoright):XiShi
(Ifu~),
sobeatifulthatwhenshewalkedby
water
thefishwouldforgettoswim,andsinkfromthesurface;WangZhaojun
(.1.!!g
%),
sobeautifulthatanybirdsthatsawherwouldfallfromthesky;DiaoChan(~~),solovelythatthemoonwouldshyaway,embarrassed,ifanyonecomparedittoherface;andYangGuifei
(;'h-~fG),
soprettythaherfacewould
cot
flowerstoshame.
'::.'
J.
PHOTOTIME

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