Female beauty and the beastly ways of Chinese traditions

By Paul LePetit Source:Global Times Published: 2015-7-29 18:28:03

A recent clickbait piece on Nanfang.com titled "Answering the Age Old Question: Why Do Foreigners Marry Ugly Chinese Girls?" attempted but failed to seriously discuss a theory proposed by iFeng Beauty writer Xu Xiliang that canvassed the usual suspects of tropes and misguided notions.

Xu was critical of Chinese society where people, according to her, marry not for love but for "practical" reasons. Believing that Westerners marry ugly Chinese women because looks are not important to them, Xu wrote: "When finding their (ideal marriage) partner, many foreigners aren't like we Chinese in being so fixated on things like appearances, money, or power. Instead, they are looking for something compatible with (the other person's) inner quality. They want to find a real, authentic soul mate."

But oversimplifying the very different concepts of love, beauty and marriage helps no one in this real and constantly changing world. In today's China, marriage is very important. It is a legal requirement for young couples who want access to government housing loans, and it grants rights and responsibilities for each partner.

In the real world, China is witnessing a rise in the number of divorces. The Global Times recently reported that the Ministry of Civil Affairs revealed that 3.6 million Chinese couples were divorced in 2014 and that the divorce rate in China had been rising for 12 years.

An old American song of the 1950s went "Love and marriage, love and marriage, go together like a horse and carriage … you can't have one without the other."

Here in China, however, love and marriage are not necessarily partners. Among the Chinese, love is generally regarded as a sign of immaturity, nothing more than a youthful phase, something for poets, artists and singers to worry about.

Realists hold a more pragmatic approach to marriage and this can involve business deals, family arrangements or the need for heirs.

Another passing phase is beauty. It is doubtful whether the four great beauties of ancient China (Xi Shi ,Wang Zhaojun, Diao Chan and Yang Guifei) would turn any heads today. And the passion that provoked the era of bound feet is, thankfully, now just an inexplicable mystery that possibly had more to do with power than attraction. Beauty, like marriage, has fads and fashions.

In the West, concepts of beauty have changed dramatically over the years. Today, Rubens' voluptuous, overweight women would not be greatly sought after. And the emaciated look that UK model Twiggy brought to the world in the 1960s is no longer relevant. Beauty in the new millennium seems to change as quickly as plastic surgery enables it to.

So writer Xu Xiliang is right in one way - beauty is no longer so special for Westerners, who bear witness to a constantly changing parade of looks, styles and fashions every moment of their day.

But she is wrong to call the sort of Chinese women that Westerners tend to marry as "ugly." Here, I suspect, she relies on a Chinese concept of beauty that worships slender figures, long hair, large eyes and pale skin.

In seeking out a life mate, Xu's version of beauty might well be the last kind of woman that a Western man would want to marry. So they look for the type of woman Xu calls "ugly."

Strategic consultancy firm ReD recently surveyed Chinese women on the concept of beauty and noted that there are two forms of beauty. "There are piaoliang (beautiful) and haokan (good-looking). The first refers to a woman's natural beauty, features that one is born with. The second refers to what one can control, such as weight, skin and hair style."

The women in this survey linked good internal health with beauty and would spend comparatively large amounts of money to make themselves look more beautiful - and therefore healthy.

This adds to an already complicated approach to the debate of what is beauty and is it inside or outside a person, a debate that could even - wait for it - turn ugly.

Posted in: TwoCents, Metro Shanghai, Pulse

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