The changing definitions of beauty in China

Inauguration of Helena Rubinstein boutique in China

With famous Chinese actress Ms. Qin Lan (middle), a representation of ideal Chinese beauty. © L'Oréal

Inauguration of Helena Rubinstein boutique in China

With famous Chinese actress Ms. Qin Lan (middle), a representation of ideal Chinese beauty. © L'Oréal

In China, beauty criteria have changed throughout the dynasties, with elegance and radiance alternatively synonymous with curvaceous or androgynous silhouettes; with long hair or short. Today, Chinese women dream of being tall and slender with large, expressive eyes. Although these modern-day beauty standards reveal a certain fascination with the West, Chinese women are still strongly attached to Oriental beauty standards.

A quick look at the changing beauty ideal from ancient China to today:

During the Tang dynasty (early 7th to early 10th centuries AD) which deeply influenced Chinese culture, a beautiful woman had to be robust and resistant. She had wide hips and proudly showed off her curves. Around the year 1000, under the Song, beauty took the opposite road to become androgynous. This criterion would persist under the Ming dynasty (14th to 17th centuries AD) when hips and breasts were frail and unassuming and clothing just as modest. Starting in the 17th century, under the Qing, the androgynous look was radicalized: women’s bodies were fragile and delicate and their skin extremely pale. During that period, beauty standards involved more than just physical appearance, including personality traits: to be beautiful, a woman had to be obedient, shy and quiet1, as illustrated in the masterpiece of Chinese literature The Dream of the Red Chamber.
During the 1950’s and 60’s, the establishment of New China once again changed beauty criteria: women were to look like men. They wore thick eyebrows and short hair. During the Cultural Revolution, make-up was also strictly forbidden by the Party. But since the opening-up of the country in the late 70’s, women have made up for this: today they are once again very feminine and have perfectly mastered the art of skin care and make-up.

1 La beauté chinoise laisse perplexe, Le Quotidien du Peuple en Ligne, 29/09/2005 french.peopledaily.com.cn

Did you know?

 

1/ The Four Great Beauties are four Chinese women from ancient times renowned for their beauty. They lived in four different dynasties, each hundreds of years apart. In chronological order, they are: Xi Shi (c. 7th to 6th century BC, Spring and Autumn Period), Wang Zhaojun (c. 1st century BC, Western Han Dynasty), Diaochan (c. 3rd century, Late Eastern Han/Three Kingdoms period) and Yang Guifei (719–756, Tang Dynasty).

2/ Unlike European women, Asian women like light, “moist” textures even if the product is sticky for a few moments after application.

3/ Chinese women often use traditional massage motions during their skin care routines. They do not spread the lotions onto their face, they help them penetrate by delicately tapping their cheeks, forehead and chin with their palms. L’Oréal has adapted its skin care lines to these rituals.