No, not all Chinese people are the same and I can prove it!
As you already know, China is an extremely populous country, but what you may not know is that it has a huge amount of ethnic diversity. About 92% of the 1.4 billion people living in China belong to the dominant Han ethnic group, while the rest are members of many other ethnic groups considered to be minority groups, such as the Zhuang, the Uyghurs, the Hui, the Miao and the Tibetans, for example.
The North and the South
The Yellow River cuts through China and divides the country in two. The North is considered more developed, with cities like Beijing and Xi’an in this area. Most Chinese people from this region have lighter skin, squarer face, and smaller eyes and noses. Southern Chinese tend to have darker skin, rounder faces, and slightly more open noses.
Remember that this comparison is made in relation to other Asians; when you read white skin, it’s not European white, and darker skin is what I consider very close to that we consider brown–or not even that! It is possible to notice that when someone with darker skin, Chinese or not, walks around the city, it elicits not-so-discreet glances.
The photo above I took when I was living in Tianjin. You can see the difference in the shapes of the faces and noses of those who accompanied me on the journey to climb Taishan (read: climbing many stairs and perhaps a story worth sharing on this blog later). However, the North and South rule does not strictly apply here because the man in the back of the photo is from Xi’an, and to me, he clearly has a different nose than what is described as typical for the North. The same goes for my visit to Haikou, the southernmost part of the country, but I must confess that at the time, my Mandarin was not good enough to ask if they were really from that region.
Starting from the premise that Chinese people are not all the same, the question remains: what is the standard of Chinese beauty?
Earlier, I mentioned the fact that the North is often considered more developed. This factor comes into play since beauty standards often follow the northern aesthetic. Darker-skinned people are associated with workers who need to be exposed to the sun. Social factors factory heavily into beauty standards (not only here but everywhere) and, therefore, light-skinned people are considered more beautiful here.
Many of us women grew up wanting to be like the model on the cover of magazines–it’s no different here. Today, in China, models are extremely thin, and many Chinese women complain about the difficulty of losing weight, yet last year (2020), the fashion around here was to go to department stores and take pictures in the dressing room while trying on children’s clothes. Being able to wear such clothing showed how thin they were.
Chinese women consider the Koreans a standard of beauty to be followed, but they know that one of the main reasons why they are considered beautiful is plastic surgery, which, along with cosmetics, is an industry that has seen almost constant growth here. It is not surprising to see stores like MAC and Sephora in almost every mall in the city, but most competition and preference is between local and Korean companies.
The pressure that women have been under here to achieve unattainable standards of beauty is similar to in many other countries. However, women here have just conquered their space in the labor market. I’m talking about superior placements as CEO’s or successful businesswomen. With economic power, it seems that there is also a requirement that they be aesthetically perfect.
Sometimes I end up falling into the black hole of shopping apps and, once you search for a single beauty product, it’s almost impossible to escape without being surprised by the amount of weight-loss products, wrinkle and blemish remover, skin whiteners, and, of course, eye-shaping products to give you a more perfect almond-shaped eyes.
Most Chinese do not have double eyelids. You know that crease in your eyelid you never noticed? It’s the dream of many Chinese people out there. Surgical procedures and applying duct tape that creates the double eyelid effect are popular here, so don’t be scared if you visit an Asian country and they say you have big eyes, IT’S A COMPLIMENT. The same goes for wavy hair, men and women spend hours in the salon to achieve the hairstyle that we tend to despise. The grass is always greener on the other side.
Speaking of hair, in some minorities, hairstyle has meaning and you can tell if a woman is married, widowed or single by the way she does her hair. If this wasn’t curious enough, how about discovering one of the secrets for them to keep their hair healthy is to wash it with the water they use to wash rice?
Chinese people have been going to gyms recently and it’s not all that surprising to find muscular men in the city (as muscular as anywhere, I don’t know what miracle whey protein they found), yet Chinese women have a very different preference from us: smooth features, thin lips, narrower chin and eyes (think of any K-pop and voilá).
Chinese women, in turn, love to dye their hair; they spend more time in the salon than many other women around the world. In addition to being rabid consumers of cosmetics, there is a large market and a lot of advertising aimed at the male audience here, with products ranging from body wash to lipstick.
A beard or any facial hair is considered unhygienic by both men and women, and as much as this has shifted slightly in recent years, the vast majority of men prefer to maintain a “clean” face.
Proofreader/Translator Evelyn Jamila