Monday, June 11, 2012


I don’t mean in a way that evokes old Bond-style schemers sitting in hollowed-out mountains stroking cats beside a pointy rocket marked “USA”. No, no. That’s North Korea you’re thinking of.
What I mean is what’s up in Chinese day-to-day-lives-ville?
Two things you might know about the Chinese: 1. There are lots of them. 2. They’re getting richer.
But when they look in the mirror it seems many still aren’t happy with themselves. That’s not ‘themselves’ in an internal, spiritual sense. They’re not going to renewal weekends surrounded by crystals and rebirthers. It’s more about what the casing looks like. So, more and more are opting for change.
That’s where a loosely regulated health care sector and a wide array of, let’s say, ludicrously cavalier medical practitioners comes in handy.
Last time we checked in on the Chinese we revealed, in a worldwide exclusive, that many were going in for one sort of cosmetic change – that of having a couple of digits altered on their birth certificateIt takes years off your life. (See Popular Posts, No.1, at right). This seems astounding, until you consider some of the cosmetic surgery that’s becoming increasingly popular here.


Not happy with your face? Imagine it without those pesky muscles.
People get botox all over the world, but it’s particularly cheap here. And popular. This is intriguing. Of all the races who might need a damn good unwrinkling, you wouldn’t think Asians were one of them. Here’s an interesting fact from my doctor wife, who is of Chinese heritage and who I married purely for her lack of wrinkles: Asian people have more collagen occurring naturally in their bodies than Caucasians. Top of the list come Indians. That’s why white folks go wrinkly earlier than Asians. Of course old Asian people can go very wrinkly indeed, but until they’re about 60 it’s just not a fair contest. Have you ever seen a Miss Cambodia with wrinkles? The prosecution rests.
Still, hordes of Chinese women – perhaps with a little too much time on their hands with all their increased middle-classness – are convincing themselves they have wrinkles that are simply beyond the pale. (Many have skin like that too, which often comes from a tube of whitener, and descends from an old status-driven belief that darker skin proves you or your ancestors were guilty of working on a farm).
There’s ‘normal’ botox, as favoured by all those Hollywood actors who in their later years have based whole new careers on looking startled.
Then there’s this kind of botox. According to the website of the Beijing Xiehu Hospital’s plastic surgery department, you can have botox injected into your jaw muscles in a way that makes them soft. They are essentially atrophied. Rendered useless. It’s a bespoke stroke. Your face does look thinner, however.
It’s all so simple. No longer will you have that chubby face. No longer will you chew properly, either. The website concedes this, saying you can say goodbye to crunching on hard things. Granted, the typical Chinese diet doesn’t call for gnawing on a steak. Noodles, rice, sweet potato - they’re all as soft as sea slugs. But, among other things, you won’t be able to crunch nuts or chew preserved animal tendons - a popular snack food here. Still, not being able to masticate properly is surely a small price to pay for having a thinner face, no?
After six months the muscles build up again, resulting of course in an unsightly face, so you’ll need to repeat the process.
To their credit, the hospital website offers potential clients a list of things to consider. My favourite is: "9. Maybe the two sides of your face will not be symmetrical".

A promotional before-and-after shot of a woman who's had
her jaw muscles done. That's the improved face on the

This is a recent photo of Hong Kong
born actor Zhao Ya Zhi, aka Angie
Chiu. I'm not sure, but I'm guessing
she might have had a little bit of
touch-up work done to the dial.
She's 57. Seriously.

Perhaps Zhao went to the western clinic
that runs this photo on its advertisements.
Maybe the two sides of your face will
not be symmetrical.


“Doctor! Doctor! I don’t think I’m ready to disengage my jaw muscles just yet,” you might hear yourself saying. “I might just settle for you taking the angle grinder to my cheekbones instead”.
If you thought suffering for beauty meant crampy shoes, then you’re just not trying. As that sign outside my favourite clothes shop says, there are no ugly women, only lazy women. So you might want to try this increasingly popular option called xiu quan gu, or ‘bone sculpting of the cheeks’. There’s also xia he jiao mo gu, or ‘jaw angle bone grinding’.
No hidden meanings here. For the right price a facial carpenter, or surgeon, makes an incision, exposes the cheek or jaw bones, and goes at them with an angle grinder. We assume it’s a more dainty piece of machinery than those you see on construction sites, but they work the same way. Just imagine that unmistakable “biieeeaairnt” sound you hear around worksites. Now imagine it on your face.
“Yes, doctor, but are there risks?”
“Ooooh shit yeah!”
You can imagine – lifting the skin off the face, with all those nerve endings, glands and things. And that’s just in the immediate area.
Here’s the serious bit. In 2010 a woman named Wang Bei went in for this surgery in the city of Wuhan. You could question whether she really needed it, along with some other work she'd already had done to widen her eyes and lengthen her chin (this one is done with an insert). She wasn’t some saggy old thing. She was 24 at the time and, by most standards, attractive. She had the world at her feet, having won China’s version of the Idol talent shows, Super Girl, with her singing. Still, she became convinced her cheeks needed re-doing. She and her mother decided to have the procedure done together. During surgery, complications arose. A lot of blood got into Wang Bei’s windpipe and she died on the table. If there has been a more pointless loss of a life outside of war, I’d like to hear it. (PS: Her mother’s surgery went smoothly).

The late Wang Bei.

Another magazine shot of her showing
her cosmetic surgery.


Not of the hair but the legs. This goes on in other countries but became very popular here several years ago.
Height comes into things often in China, where, save for former basketball Yao Ming, the average person is quite short by western standards. Quite often, jobs demand minimum heights. Lonely hearts classifieds are sprinkled with demands for that certain special someone to be of a certain height. One spotted recently in the Shanghai Morning Post had a 36-year-old, 176 centimetre (5’9”) man calling for a woman who was 30 and 163 centimetres (5’4”), not to be too picky or anything.
Shortness was considered incurable until the advent of a leg-lengthening technique pioneered by Russian surgeon Gavril Ilizarov, which took off in China in the late 1990s.
The procedure requires that the patient’s leg bones be sawn through, usually below the knee, before an adjustable metal frame is applied to the outside. Patients, lying down for a few months, then turn knobs on the frames to increase the gaps where the bones were cut, which get filled in by new bone growth. Eventually, they can have their legs lengthened by up to 15cm (six inches), though the average is around nine centimetres (3.5 inches).
The pitfalls can range from patients looking a bit funny, somewhat out of proportion, to cases where the operation has gone disastrously wrong. Twisted legs, feet pointing off at odd angles, and re-breakages caused by patients trying to walk again too soon are among the many hazards.
The problems grew sufficiently worrying for the government to ban the procedure in 2006. However, with a large amount of illegal clinics in operation, it would be no stretch to say the operation would still be possible if desired badly enough.

Yao Ming, an exception to the
rule who, at 2.29m (7' 6"), skewed
the stats on Chinese height. His
height is said to be no fluke,
however. His parents were also
tall basketballers (2.01m and
1.90m) and are said to have been
encouraged by China's state-run
sports commission to get
together to produce an

And this is Bao Xishun, who's 2.36m (7' 9") height
was indeed a fluke. Formerly recognised by the
Guinness Book of Records as the world's tallest
man Bao, 61, is seen here with his wife Xia Shujian,
who married up.

And here Bao is seen with He Pingping, who was the world's
shortest man at 74cm (2' 5") before his death in 2010,
aged 21. Not only were both record holders from China,
they were from the same northern province of Inner
Mongolia. What's going on up there?

A newspaper photo of Thomas
Keeper, a Canadian who 'grew' from
1.67m (5' 6") to 1.77m (5'10")
after a leg lengthening operation,
and who is starting to resemble
a Japanese cartoon figure. He
said he was sick of being
ridiculed for shortness, like
Tom Cruise, although
of all the things Cruise is
ridiculed for, it is believed
shortness is way down the list. 


China now performs more plastic surgery than any other country except the USA and Brazil. According to the Economist, there were 1.3 million licensed procedures carried out in China in 2010. Factor in the unlicensed ones and China probably leads the world. One problem is that doctors are poorly paid at public hospitals and so will often moonlight at unlicensed clinics. At People’s Ninth Hospital in Shanghai, the city’s busiest plastic surgery centre, there were 50,000 cosmetic operations in 2011 – a 50 per cent increase in five years.
That there are so many unlicensed clinics also means cosmetic surgery is available to the rich and the not-so-rich. So there are also many people, particularly women, who hope plastic surgery can help them leave the lower classes by “marrying-up”. Whatever the reasons, it’s a huge growth industry.

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