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Beauty at High Cost
Cover Stories Series 2012> Beauty at High Cost
UPDATED: March 31, 2012 NO.14 APRIL 5, 2012
Costs of Face Consciousness
More beauty seekers choose to ignore risks in China's plastic surgery craze
By Li Li


EYE OPENING: A girl looks in a mirror at home days after a double eyelid surgery (CFP) 

Ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius (551-479 B.C.) said, "Your body, hair and skin are a gift from your parents, and you do not dare to harm them. That is the beginning of filial piety."

However, the sage's words have been brushed off by a growing number of prosperous and self-conscious Chinese people, who are willing to pay big money and undergo enormous pain to become more beautiful by going under the knife.

According to the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons, China ranked third in the world in the number of cosmetic procedures performed in 2010, after the United States and Brazil, with 588,880 surgical procedures and 1.265 million non-surgical procedures performed in the country.

Considering that the industry was virtually nonexistent merely 30 years ago, the extent of current demand is testament to the enormous boom China's plastic surgery has undergone in the past decades.

According to national broadcaster CNR, the total revenue of China's plastic surgery market reached 300 billion yuan ($47.6 billion) in 2010 and more than 20 million people were employed by the industry. Extraordinarily, the industry has a projected annual growth rate of more than 40 percent.

Ups and downs


HOT STUFF: A silicone breast implant is shown at a plastic surgery clinic in Shenzhen, south China's Guangdong Province (BLOOMBERG) 


ALL JOBS ARE DONE: Known as Aunt Qiangwei among Web users, this middle-aged woman has become a phenomenon on the Internet after going through 18 plastic surgeries to look younger and more beautiful (CFP) 

"Well-performed surgeries can totally change people's appearance and their lives. For example, women who remove extra fat from their waists, hips and thighs through lipoplasty regain beautiful body curves, which gives them more self-confidence," said Wang Shujie, a plastic surgeon at the Plastic Surgery Hospital at Peking Union Medical College.

The 46-year-old surgeon wears flattering black eye shadow and looks years younger than her age. She said that her own body has gone through double eyelid surgery, an operation to make eyes appear larger by adding a crease in the eyelid, lower eyelid surgery to alleviate puffiness and lipoplasty. She also conducted double eyelid surgery on one of her two elder sisters.

Wang, who has been a plastic surgeon for 15 years, said she spent a lot of time in front of a mirror when she was a child and was determined to become a plastic surgeon when she graduated from high school.

"When selecting a major for my studies in medical school in 1985, I had to choose oral and maxillofacial surgery, the closest thing to a plastic surgery major that was available at the time," Wang said.

Apart from elective cosmetic procedures, plastic surgery also includes reconstructive plastic surgery, which repairs deformities or disfigurements caused by injuries, disease or birth defects.

Despite the massive popularity it enjoys at present, the development of plastic surgery in China has not been smooth.

Plastic surgery became established in China after 1949 to treat severely wounded and burned soldiers in wars. But it almost disappeared during the "cultural revolution" (1966-76), as it was considered an unnecessary technique. After the reform and opening-up process began in the late 1970s, plastic surgery gradually revived and the industry has since experienced a boom.

Wang's hospital, the largest plastic surgery hospital in China, was founded in 1957 by Professor Song Ruyao, who is known as the "father of plastic surgery in China." Receiving his master's degree in oral surgery from the University of Pennsylvania in the United States in the 1940s, he became China's first professor of plastic and maxillofacial surgery.

The hospital was closed down in 1966-76 and reopened at a new site in Beijing's western suburbs in 1978. After reopening, the hospital operated on a large number of cleft lip and palate patients. But over time demand for more complex and more cosmetic procedures began to rise and following the 1980s demand for plastic surgery expanded exponentially. The number of ward beds in the facility has grown from 24 in 1979 to 324 today, and around 20,000 plastic surgeries are conducted every year. The hospital has also opened two cosmetic clinics in downtown Beijing since 2001.

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