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Home  /  Inside China  /  East-West Beauty standards regarding Chinese actresses: Between Gong Li, Zhang Ziyi and Fan Bingbing
East-West Beauty standards regarding Chinese actresses: Between Gong Li, Zhang Ziyi and Fan Bingbing print version
Beauty standards are hard to define, even within a certain society, and any survey in this matter is not comprehensive enough. Yet it is clear that beauty standards for Chinese women in the west and in China are often unparallel. Do Chinese prefer traditional looking or more European looking Chinese stars and how are Gong Li, Zhang Ziyi and Fan Bingbing involved in this discussion?

The two all-time famous 'Zhang Yimou girls' (张艺谋女儿), Gong Li (巩俐) and Zhang Ziyi (章子怡) seem completely different looking in my western eyes. The first is dark skin, not-so-thin woman, while the second is a much gentler, extremely skinny, snow-white skin girl. From the small survey I have conducted it seems that most westerners see more differences than similarities between the two, while many Chinese actually feel Gong Li and Zhang Ziyi resemble each other (and it is also quite known that director Zhang Yimou picked up Zhang Ziyi because of her similarity to Gong Li), how come?

It would be more likely that Chinese would be pickier and acknowledge differences than westerners, but that isn't the case. In fact, it seems that Chinese, both men and women, focus on certain facial features more than others, and that they consider feminine similarities according to such features. This linked blog post from the Chinese portal 163 focuses on the facial similarities of Zhang Ziyi and Gong Li. These pictures do not convince me, though they at least show that in terms of posture, dress and hair style their photo directors and designers have a similar style.

Perhaps it is also the fact that Zhang stepped into Gong Li's shoes and that the former has tried to resemble Gong in certain physical aspect that makes Chinese easily associate between the two. Furthermore, their low nose and round faces (including a quite round chin) are two features which Chinese seem to be rather picky about. Anyhow, the 2005 film 'Memoirs of Geisha' (艺伎回忆录 yiji huiyilu) gives an opportunity to she Zhang Ziyi and Gong Li acting cheek to cheek.


 Fan Bingbing in 'Shaolin'

A Chinese star which seems to step higher in terms of suiting the taste of Chinese viewers is Fan Bingbing (范冰冰), the 29 years old Qingdao actress who has recently become extremely popular after playing in Shaolin (新少林寺 xin shaolinsi), Buddha Mountain (观音山guanyinshan) and Sacrifice (趙氏孤兒 zhaoshi guer). It is too early to determine how Fan Bingbing is accepted in the west in terms of beauty standards, but in China she is esteemed (besides for her acting and personality, of course) for her white skin, big eyes, pointed chin and her notable nose.

Most of these features are actually beauty standards which are becoming more popular in China only in recent decades. In imperial China, on the contrary, a round face and chin was usually considered pretty. It seems that in some aspects Chinese have preserved certain beauty standards throughout the years, while in others they are acknowledging more and more Chinese women which have some western features, though not to an extreme degree (wide Scandinavian shoulders or big Latin breasts are still considered not feminine enough by most Chinese).

As beauty standards are no science this discussion could be stopped here, without too generalizing conclusions. It is also interesting to check what features in Chinese women attract westerners more; features which are easily 'westernized' or those which fit a certain exotic stereotype of Chinese women. Clearly, men and women will probably not completely agree with each other on this point.

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