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China’s plastic surgery boom

Posted April. 26, 2011 04:24,   


A 20-something Chinese woman returned home in February 2007 after undergoing plastic surgery in Korea. At Pudong International Airport in Shanghai, however, she was blocked by an airport official who suspected she had a false passport. He said while the passport showed she had an angulate and square face, her real face was egg-shaped. Then her company sent her photo that was saved in the employee record through fax, but that photo also looked considerably different from her face. Only after her family verified her identity did immigration admit her back to her country.

Korea is one of the world`s leading countries for plastic surgery. According to the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, with a rate of one per 10,000, Hungary has the world`s highest average number of plastic surgeries with 230, followed by Korea with 133. Korea is assumed to have surpassed Hungary, however, because Hungary’s numbers include foreign tourists having plastic surgery there. China is also showing a plastic surgery boom amid increasing incomes, growth of mass media and demand for a more Westernized appearance. In 2009, the U.S. topped the world with 3.03 million plastic surgery cases, with China coming in third with 2.19 million. China is likely to soon beat the U.S., however.

In the U.S., plastic surgery is mostly the domain of middle-aged people desperately fighting aging or reducing wrinkles or fat in their waistlines, but those in China are mostly drawing people in their 20s for double eyelids, nose jobs and facial reconstruction. The Chinese are turning to plastic surgery in the hope of a better job or marriage. The term “beauty economy” was coined in China as the cosmetics industry saw explosive growth along with plastic surgery. The beauty economy accounts for 1.8 percent of China’s GDP, according to an analysis.

The “Korean wave” has partially contributed to China’s plastic surgery boom. Many Chinese women who seek plastic surgery want their faces to look like popular Korean actresses such as Lee Young-ae and Song Hye-gyo. Korea is also increasingly becoming a popular destination for plastic surgery due to the outstanding ability of Korean plastic surgeons. The New York Times said Chinese patients take up 30 percent of Seoul-based plastic surgery clinics. The Chinese government is trying to regulate plastic surgery tourism but many are skeptical whether Beijing can curb the voracious appetite for beauty of Chinese women.

Editorial Writer Chung Sung-hee (shchung@donga.com)